Anxiety Disorders and Difficult Situations

The other day I had to do something out of the ordinary. I won’t go into it — because it really wasn’t about me — but it was something I’ve only ever done once before, as well as being a situation that most would find difficult or stressful.

I’m not here to write about what I did, but rather how I did it. The few other people who know what happened commented afterwards how naturally I managed to slide into the role that was required, and overcome the stress of it all. Welcome to the world of an anxiety disorder.

About four years ago I was diagnosed with having an anxiety disorder and it was a bit of a lightbulb moment. I was lucky enough to receive a course of counselling on the NHS back in England, in which I went through some Cognitive behavioural therapy sessions. Since then I’ve had panic attacks, bouts of depression and times where I’ve felt completely enveloped by my poor mental health — but I’ve never felt as low as I did before my understanding of the disorder.

Back when I was diagnosed I was scored on a chart, where I could see via line graphs and data just how bad my anxiety disorder was. “This isn’t great. In fact — It’s about as bad as it possibly can be,” my straight-talking NHS counsellor told me, “but it’s nothing you can’t fix.”

Before my CBT sessions I displayed strong symptoms of social anxiety and agoraphobia, on top of my generalised anxiety disorder; I couldn’t have conversations with anyone on most days, and some days I was terrified of what might happen if I left the house.

To put it simply, an anxiety disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain that means you process events differently. It plays into the whole primal fight or flight element of living; Something that used to be all about surviving potential predators in the wild, but now helps us out in scary situations. My imbalance means that I read most encounters as fight or flight — which allows the anxiety to seep in, leading me to not do either. Instead, I freeze.

It’s recommended that people with serious anxiety disorders don’t drive, as it consists of a lot of instant decision making that can put people’s lives in danger. So I don’t drive, for now. Most other aspects of modern living are fine enough to handle with some CBT, meditation or understanding of the disorder — because in most situations you’re given a minute or so to make a decision on something.

If we reduce negative feelings of a mental heath disorder to a simple 1-10 scale, I was told that I’m constantly at a 5 — that’s my base camp. I know that when I meditate, or control my breathing in any way, I can get that feeling as low as a 2 and feel what it’s like to not have an anxiety disorder.

It’s great, by the way — but I can’t be constantly meditating. I might live at a high altitude in Colorado, but I’ve got a long way to go before I’m actually living up a mountain.

For whatever reason, whenever I encounter something in day-to-day life that I’ve done a hundred times before, such as order a meal, make a phone call or speak to a stranger, my 5 goes up to a 7 or an 8. Until online delivery came about, ordering a pizza used to be an impossible task.

In these everyday situations my fight or flight kicks in, as usual, but then my anxiety asks why everyone else involved in the encounter isn’t also freaking out — and I start to panic. Why isn’t the waitress as terrified to receive my order as I am to give it? Why isn’t my polite neighbour trembling with fear when we say hi to each other? I’ve learned to control this, for the most part, but it’s something I have to actively suppress.

Now when something traumatic happens, something that legitimately demands a fight or flight response, and people around me do start freaking out — That’s when I’m in my element. See, I’m already at a 5, so to jump to a 9 isn’t a huge stretch for me. The people also involved the other day, they were floating along at a 1 or a 2, but they also had to jump to a 9, from a much lower point.

I’m good when accidents happen to other people, because everyone is running around and visibly displaying the same panic I feel on a day-to-day basis. This stops the anxiety of “you’re not normal” seeping in, so I can think clearly and do what I need to do to solve the problem. I’d really prefer it if accidents didn’t happen to other people though.

Jon Ronson is a journalist and writer with an anxiety disorder, who occasionally discusses its impact on his life. Despite his struggle with performing a lot of basic, daily tasks — he has spent time with terrorist groups, been around some dangerous people and put himself in situations that most would normally find terrifying.

In a podcast interview he once mused:

“Maybe it’s why people with anxiety disorders are quite good when it comes to actual difficult situations, because we’ve rehearsed it so many times. We panic unnecessarily so often that when something really worth panicking (about) comes along, we actually handle it really well.” – Jon Ronson

What I had to do the other day was nothing like spending time with terrorists to get to know them, but it was something really worth panicking about.

It got me thinking that maybe I can overcome even more of aspects of my life effected by my anxiety disorder, if I can just convince myself that it’s all worth panicking about. I’ll have to give it some thought, because reprogramming thought-processes can be risky — but if I could respond to normal situations in the same way I did to that stressful one, then I’d consider myself as close to “cured” as I think is possible for my particular mental health issue.

The world is a scary place from time to time, and while ordering a pizza isn’t worth having a panic attack over — if I tell myself that it is, then maybe I wouldn’t panic in the first place?

Some thoughts for thought, which is now my neurosis speaking.


Today is Wednesday, August 8th and if you’re struggling with your mental health you should talk about it. It’s not talking that causes the damage.

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You, Intern! Fetch Mrs Obama a Coffee

Imagine being an intern in the television industry. You’ve been at it for two years and nobody wants to listen to your screenplay pitch. It’s about a regular guy named Mark who, one morning, wakes up as a T-Rex. It’s going to be great kid, keep trying.

The majority of your last twenty-four months have been spent fetching coffee for sleazy executives and producers. You hate it, because they’re the worst people, but you really want this. So you try extra hard to remember their no-foam de-caff half and half caffeinated cap. With sprinkles.

Then, just as you’re about to give up all hope on anyone reading Jurassic Mark, a different pair of producers walk into the office building and set up residence. They’re tall, charming from the get-go and are more than happy to smile as you pitch your dinosaur themed body-swap movie. They politely decline, but they at least listen.

Also, you think you might know them from somewhere. They had a starring role in “the news” for about eight or so years.

obamas

President Obama and his wife Michelle have signed a deal with Netflix to produce original content for the streaming service. The exact nature of that content has a pretty vague description, with yesterday’s statement reading that the deal includes potentially making “scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features.”

So pretty much everything other than a stand-up special.

It’s a perfect move for the couple. Clinton had his sax and George Bush Jr had his hideous paintings. It just so happens that the latest ex-commander in chief has a penchant for digital media.

I’ve seen a lot of articles joke about the programming that the Obamas could make, such as Orange is the New Barack or Barack Mirror. Which I think are ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS. Get it?! Because his name is Barack Obama and the word ‘Black’ sounds just like his first name? Oh man. Wow, such pure genius…

I want to speculate on the kind of content we should see from the Obamas. This very much sounds like it’s going to be in list-form so yes, dear reader, have yourself a delicious clickbait title.

6 Shows or Movies That The Obamas Should Produce At Netflix, Number 3 Is So Shocking You’ll Want To Cry Rectangles!

1. A Family Sitcom

They’re perhaps the least interesting of the sitcom sub-genres. With the all-time greats being made back in the 50s, greats that we can’t even go back and watch because the 50s were a very (very) racist time in America. The 80s tried to revive the genre with shows like Roseanne and The Cosby Show, which…also became awkward viewing.

Let’s face it, the best American sitcoms have never been in a family setting. But they’re a staple of American culture, and one that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. With Roseanne back on our screens as an out-and-out Trump supporter, I think we need a counter-balance to what represents the average American family.

Which, sidenote, that’s not satire by the way. Having a satirical, ageing Trump supporter would provide plenty of comedic moments, and I agree that the character of Roseanne would’ve been a Trump supporter. But the show always seems to have Roseanne get the last word in every argument. Which, when it comes to politics, is dangerous.

roseanne
The character advocating equality is made the butt of every joke. Keep it balanced, or don’t attempt satire.

Make the new family sitcom meta. Make it about a group of actors who play a family on a family sitcom. The genre is dying in favour of work and friend based sitcoms, so we may as well pull the curtain back a little on the whole genre.

Most important of all, make it diverse. Modern Family nearly hit the mark, except everyone was upper middle-class. Sitcoms traditionally have their pulse on where America is at, and America is a brilliant mix of people from all walks of life. It shouldn’t be diverse for the sake of it, but diverse because America is.

2. A Docu-series

Personally, I want the Obamas to produce and champion ideas that revolve around other people. However, if Netflix forces their hand, due to the strength of the Obama brand, then I want them to put their faces on a show that educates.

I’d want an Obama-narrated educational documentary series with zero political spin. Having had conversations with Americans, I think there are gaps in their knowledge of how government works. Or how it’s supposed to work. I know that I personally need a better understanding on a lot of areas of political systems in the USA.

A well-educated electorate is something that the Obamas have always championed. They could narrate episodes centred on the house of representatives, how the electoral college works and what special interest groups are. They could openly and candidly discuss how political campaigns are funded. What’s legal and what’s not legal. They’d all be facts, facts that are written into American law.

Again, zero spin would be the key. Often when you present the truth as bare bones, it speaks for itself. Hard-right conservatives would criticise it as a left-leaning look into politics, but something I’ve found is that the honest truth happens to always land you slightly left of centre. Which makes you think.

3. Alternative Voices

This isn’t genre specific, more the kinds of content creators that I would expect the Obamas to champion. This can include looking to minority groups for writers and directors, but it doesn’t always have to. I, as a consumer of media, just want something different. Show me a perspective that I haven’t seen before.

More often than not that will end up including a female voice, or a non-white voice, or an LGBT+ voice. Which has nothing to do with inclusivity for the sake of it. It’s more that the scales are simply balancing. SWM’s have been producing the majority of content for so long that any voice other than our own feels different and exciting.

I want to live in a world where we don’t need to tout the ethnic background or sexual orientation of a content creator. I want to live in world where we talk about the voice of the writer, the emotive talent of the actor or the visual style of the director, no matter who they are.

We’re not there yet, but I believe that the Obamas can help to balance the scales.

4. A Fantasy Epic

Yes, we have Game of Thrones and Amazon are working on a Middle-Earth TV series, but there’s always room in the fantasy genre for more. The only limits to world-building are our imaginations. Which sounds crass, because it is.

The Obamas are famously fans of the hit HBO show, with one of the producers commenting back in 2016 that “the president wanted advanced copies of the episodes.” Whether or not HBO obliged has been kept a secret, but to even make a request like this shows that the Obamas are as addicted to the fantasy genre as we are.

Game of Thrones is steeped in historical and political commentary, it’s part of what makes the show so great. I’d like to see the Obamas produce an epic fantasy series, set in an entirely fictional world, that provides a social commentary on modern living.

It could be that the characters talk about how a great evil was defeated eighty years ago, but now it’s slowly seeping back into their towns and villages. It’s infecting the minds of the people, and it turns out it’s a group of dark wizards who’ve created potions that make the drinker believe anything they’re told. It’s a Crafty Fox Potion etc.

That’s not at all subtle, but you get my point. I’ve never seen fantasy as pure escapism, but rather an alternative universe in which to tell very human stories.

5. The Daily Show

dailyshow

This is more of a plea to give new life to a specific brand. Back in the UK, during my teenage years, I was lucky enough to be able to watch the latest episodes of The Daily Show on an eighteen hour tape delay. Which, at the time, was pretty current.

Comedy Central have always been half-decent at championing original comedy, but fewer and fewer members of our generation pay for cable, let alone watch broadcast television. I think if the brand was acquired by Netflix, and produced by the Obamas, it could help boost viewership. As well as aiding in the aim for Netflix to produce more “live, ongoing” original content.

Trevor Noah does an excellent job and he’d be a great host to at least establish the first year on a new platform. In recent times Last Week Tonight has, rightfully, taken the place in the public consciousness that The Daily Show once had.

Trust me, in a Trumpian world there’s definitely room for two well-made and well-researched satirical entertainment shows. With the right backing, Daily Show clips could go viral in the same way that LWT clips do. Although they would have to wait until Trevor Noah’s contract with Comedy Central ends, in 2022. If we’re all still here.

This really could be produced by anyone, but imagine sitting through twenty-two minutes of biting satire only to see the credit: Produced by Michelle Obama. Conservatives are already under the assumption that these shows have a bias, when typically they simply present facts and sprinkle in jokes. So why not enrage them further by adding an Obama to the production staff?

6. The Apprentice Rip-Off

Come on now.

Okay…fine.

Keep all of the filming secret and under-wraps. Zero promotion, it just drops on Netflix on a random Tuesday morning. No pre-title sequence. Just open on Barack Obama walking into a room of twelve prospective business partners, with a knowing smile on his face.

“Now, I’ve devoted my life to serving the American people the best that I can. I consider myself a public servant, not a businessman. But apparently anyone can do anything now, so here we are, welcome to Not The Apprentice!”

20 Million people stream and old Donald quits the White House in order to battle Obama in a ratings war. Trump is back in the realm where he belongs and Obama has somehow managed to save the day, again.

Today is May 22nd, 2018 and there’s a tiny part of me that now wants to write Jurassic Mark.

Short Story – “Pod Pals”

Spiderman passed through the decontamination showers in his plain, white jumpsuit. The simple jumpsuit-look had replaced the jeans and t-shirt combination, from the previous century, as the standard for neutral fashion. It began as a necessity, for moving through various zones where you’d be shot by multiple jets of cleansing waters, but over time, people just got sick of changing, and so the new standard trend was born. Spiderman didn’t mind his uncomfortable plastic-wear, but as he had only turned eighteen this past week, his knowledge of the comforts of thread and wool were minimal.

He was the first to arrive inside Pod-216-B-CO, not just today, but ever. The Pod-216 unit was a new development that Spiderman had been lucky enough to make the waiting list of. Last year, when he had turned seventeen, he put his name down for pre-registration. On the off-chance that when he came of age, he would frequent a Pod nearly two decades newer than the one he had shared with his family. As he stepped across the threshold of Pod-216-B-CO, with the pressurised doors closing behind him, he was not disappointed. Spiderman could see all of the modern amenities, including a model of the latest SoundCube™ and metallic, longline sofa covers.

All in all, 216-B was a little smaller than an old-world shipping container, only inviting, and perhaps even cosy. This was the design of most Pods, certainly all of those used by the general public anyway. Spiderman sat down on one of the two opposing sofas and waited for his Pod-Pals. “Pod-Pals”, he hated that term. It was nothing but branding on the part of the government, in order to make spending an hour in a confined space with complete strangers more settling. In truth, it was weird. Spiderman felt nervous just thinking about who could walk through that door. If he was lucky, then it would be a group of eighteen year-olds, so at least they could bond over being new to this situation. He thought that the worst case scenario would be three, newly released convicts, each assigned to the same civilian Pod by mistake.

The pressurised doors hissed and slid apart, Spiderman picked up a nearby Pad and started tapping away nonchalantly.
‘Hey-ay!’ A hyper-feminised voice called out, as the doors closed behind its’ speaker.
Spiderman looked up from his device to see someone older than he had been expecting, a woman with blueish green hair and a broad smile. ‘Hi,’ he waved his hand up before returning his attention to checking his profiles.
‘My name’s Cupcake, what’s yours?’ Cupcake approached the seated Spiderman, tilted her head to one side, and extended her hand out in a greeting.
‘Spider-man.’ His voice broke as he answered, so he cleared his throat and went for round two, ‘Spiderman. My name’s Spiderman.’
‘So traditional, I love it, I love it.’ Cupcake reached for a nearby Pad and shot Spiderman a quick friend request. ‘Looks like we’re Pod-Pals now!’ She squealed with genuine glee, before audibly yay-ing.

Continue reading “Short Story – “Pod Pals””

Short Story – “Influence Me”

She was fully aware of the power she held in the palm of her hand. With a flick of her thumbs she could convince two-thousand teens in southern California to flock to a pop-up store. Or, if she felt like so-inclined, she could push her friends’ latest single, and guarantee an additional twenty-million streams the world over. A mid-range budget movie could break the box-office or flop, based entirely on her ordering of words, and use of specific emojis. If that tweet, Instagram or Snapchat is signed with a KK, you best believe the product she’s promoting will sell.

Katie Kelly was the queen of social-media influence. The characters she typed on her phone, to a certain demographic, were gospel. Advertisers, promoters, entertainers; they all knew this. Her social media posts for the next three months were planned out to the letter, down to the very last hashtag. That’s why Katie was a little confused on the morning of Monday the 16th of October, to be sat in the waiting room of a client, who wanted something posted in the next couple of weeks. Her agent, TiTus, had arranged this meeting, declaring to her the evening prior that ‘It was too important to miss’. If it was that important they should’ve called six months ago, Katie thought.

Katie knew exactly who she was and why people came to her. She had a rare quality in the world of influencers; self-awareness. She wasn’t susceptible to the egotistical callings of a reality-show, she had no interest in parading her private life on screens across the world. She’d seen what that had done to other influencers. Sure, they all had their own levels of popularity, but every time they got drunk and went joyriding, or cried over a handbag that wasn’t expensive enough, they damaged their brand to a specific demographic. Katie’s goal was to have everyone.

Continue reading “Short Story – “Influence Me””