I was daydreaming, which writers do a lot, sitting on my green padded stool in my favorite watering hole. My daydreaming was interrupted when a chap climbed on the stool next to me. He looked to be in his early 50’s. He was sweating, grim faced and stooped over the bar.
He ordered a boiler-maker, which was a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser. That was a powerful alcoholic combination compared to my non-alcoholic tonic water with ice and lemon.
He drank the whiskey in one gulp and then took a sip of beer.
Then his eyes started to roll and he mumbled:
“My body fells tingly and I’m dizzy. I feel like ice water is in my veins. I want to run away from my body but I can’t. My heart is pounding!”
His breathing was shallow. The bartender gave me a cold cloth to wipe his forehead with.
“Take deep breaths, fella,” I said, holding the cloth on his forehead.
He recovered after about five minutes, then he blurted out:
“The walls of life are closing in.”
“What do you mean by that, my friend?” I said as a reflex action to his outburst.
He looked at me with watery eyes and said:
“I’m depressed and full of anxiety. Life is getting claustrophobic.”
He ordered another whiskey.
“Do you think whiskey is the solution to your panic attack?”
“It blots out my negative thinking.”
“What got you into this situation?”
“The last two years have been a disaster for me. My wife died, then I was passed over for promotion. Now my job is in jeopardy because I’ve lost my concentration. My health has been deteriorating and I feel I’ve lost all control over my life.”
“Maybe I can help. Sometimes talking it out is therapeutic.”
“Hey mister, what makes you an authority on depression and anxiety?”
“I’m a writer of a blog where I try to inform people on solutions to their problems.”
Tom, the barkeep, came over and said:
“Hey buddy, listen to this guy, he knows what he’s talking about.”
My stoolmate pondered that for a minute and said:
“Yes, he does, trust me I’m a bartender!”
“What qualifications do you have?”
“I’m a student of life. I took some psychology courses when I was young and I continued through my life to read about anxiety, depression, fear and phobias, all of which I am interested in.”
“Well mister, this depression is taking over my life,” my stoolmate mumbled.
“Do you realize that depression is a defense mechanism against the sickness of negative thinking?”
“You mean to tell me, that depression is good for you?”
“No, depression is NOT good for us, but it’s the body’s survival mechanism over extreme stress caused by negative thinking.”
“How does depression help you survive?”
“Your body has to deal with the stress, so depression depresses negative thinking by numbing out fear emotions but it also numbs out good emotions, like love and joy.”
“So, my negative thinking has caused my depression”
“Yes, but you can get rid of depression by discontinuing to think negatively.”
“Easier said then done!”
“But worth the effort if you want to get control of your thoughts and feelings.”
I noticed my stoolmate stopped drinking whiskey and was sticking to the beer. Was I getting through to him?
“Hey Dave, you want another tonic water?” said Tom, the barkeep.
“Yes please.” Tom was my buddy from our school days, which is why I come to this tavern.
When Tom brought my drink, he winked at me, he knew I had helped others from the green padded stool.
“So many of my friends seem to be going through bouts of panic and depression. Why is that, I wonder?”
“Well, my friend, stress over long periods of time plays a role. Each of us creates much of our own stress, but the society in which we live affects us also.”
“How does society affect us?”
“Our environment and social order have changed drastically in the last 30 years. Modern society is fast paced with the advent of digital technology. Consequently, this hasn’t given people time to adjust.”
My stoolmate was pondering that statement for a minute.
I continued: “The situation is compounded by the increasing uncertainties in today’s world, climate change, nuclear proliferation, etc, means society gets more anxious and finally values are unclear today.”
“How’s that about values?”
“Nietzsche, the philosopher, said: “God is dead!”
That means the usual values prescribed by religion and society are gone. We must all cope on our own and take responsibility for creating our own meaning and moral code, which becomes very stressful!”
“So, my panic attacks come about from too much stress?”
“That’s right. How do you feel at this moment?”
“Terrible! I feel like I’m losing control of myself and my life and I have a feeling that something bad is going to happen. Also, I say strange things to myself, like I’m going crazy.”
“All that tells me you have extreme anxiety that is probably generalized. You have an overall feeling of a vague danger coming all the time.”
The stoolmate was squirming on his stool!
“So, this is affecting me in every department?”
“Yes, physiologically, behaviorally, and psychologically.”
“Oh No! What am I going to do?”
He put his head in his hands and he was shaking!
“Relax fella, there is help for you.”
I motioned to Tom to give me the cold cloth again.
“Here, my friend, hold this on your forehead for a few minutes.”
I handed him the cloth. I didn’t want him to have another attack.
After a minute or so, he threw the cloth on the bar and said:
“How can I recover from this horror situation?”
“Your recovery program should include:
A reduction of your physical reactions, an elimination of avoidance behavior and finally change your subjective interpretations right now, your self-talk is terrible and is perpetuating your state of apprehension and worry.”
“How do I put all that into action?”
“Well, you might need a therapist, but if you were strong enough, you could do it by yourself.”
“Please tell me the treatment, Dave, my name is Jake, by the way.”
That was an improvement, he called me by name and introduced himself.
“Fasten your seatbelt, Jake, here we go:
First, you will need some relaxation training. Deep breathing exercises to reduce anxiety.
Then Cognitive Therapy to get rid of bad self-talk and replace it with realistic thinking. You need to correct your distorted thinking.
Then Distraction, some diversionary activities such as a hobby, listening to music, journaling, and writing down your daily thoughts.
Finally, Mindfulness practice would be beneficial. Realize your bad thoughts can’t hurt you and try to live in the present moment, where your life is.”
Jake was writing all this down on a piece of paper that Tom gave him. He put it in his pocket.
The Jake got up to leave.
“Remember, my friend, yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the Present.”
“Thank you for the info, Dave, I feel better already.”
He walked out of the tavern whistling.
Tom and I smiled at each other and gave the thumbs up sign.
Also published on Medium.