Posted in Hello, Anxiety.

Hello Anxiety: “‘A Christmas Memory’ and My Therapist(s)” Part Two

This blog category is the journaling and journey-ing of my quest to say (with cautious sincerity) “Hello, Anxiety” and to take a look at the condition from my “me-andering” views.

[Today’s post is an overdue continuation of “Hello Anxiety: “‘A Christmas Memory’ and My Therapist(s)” Part One, from a couple of weeks ago:]

After finishing my teary-eyed reading to Robert of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, and seeing my own quirky parallels to the story, we finally arrived in Statesboro for my weekly therapist appointment. And I was ready to “BE FIXED!” As I am at every session. And come to think of it, as I am every new morning. Isn’t that what I’m paying for?! And living for?


I really love therapist Lori Gottlieb’s beautifully humorous and heartwarming examination of therapy in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.

Which, okay, I’ve read three times now, so my copy should be called You Should DEFINITELY Talk to Someone. In the book, Lori (first-name basis now) explains to me that … “One of the most important steps in therapy is helping people take responsibility for their current predicaments, because once they realize that they can and must construct their own lives, they are free to generate change.” She goes on, “A therapist will hold up a mirror to patients.”

Oh gosh, that sounds like far too much work. And the mirror is not one of my best friends.


It’s a bit of a challenge to drive to my therapist’s actual office, at least if you’re arriving from the main avenue out front. You see, he shares this beautiful, slightly crumbling but genteel old white house with several other therapists (Oh, if walls could talk!), and when you turn onto the paved driveway, a little narrow wooden garage appears straight ahead, or what you think is the garage. If this is your first time, you are a bit confused about the layout because the garage doesn’t seem to have a back wall. “Should I keep driving through? Surely you don’t park in a carport with no back wall and where the drive seems to continue.” You slowly inch forward, trying your best not to bring the entire old structure down by grazing the rickety walls. Your effort finds you, slightly exhausted, finally pulling into the mostly-dirt-with-a-little-gravel parking lot out back.

Whew! You haven’t even darkened the therapist’s door yet. You wonder if there’s a trick entrance there as well.

And then it hits you. At least it hit me: I just drove through wooden metaphorical therapy! [TIB (Truth in Blogging): it didnt hit me that first day, but weeks, maybe months later it did.]

Negotiating through therapy can be a confusing and hazardous drive.

You think you know where you’re headed, but then the lane narrows and you find yourself in unexpected, unsteady and unexplored spaces. “It’s too tight in here. Even breathing can be a struggle.” But effective therapy shows you doors you may not have noticed before, in unanticipated places … avenues through. Even if the ways aren’t paved, perhaps covered with dirt, challenging and uncomfortable to push through.

I can’t just keep referring to my therapist as “my therapist” ad nauseam. And I can’t just tell you his real name, because then you might try to go through the garage to see him and claim him as YOUR THERAPIST. And we patients (consumers? clients?) can get very possessive and territorial.

So let’s call him Rubinstein, Rubi for short.


Today, leaving Robert and “A Christmas Memory” in the car, I open the back screen door and walk through the porch into the practice’s common waiting area. I sit down, albuterol inhaler in hand, onto one of only two small, ancient, uncomfortable and rickety-squeak ladder-back chairs. (Don’t get me started on metaphors again.) Soon I hear Rubi walking down the steps from his second-floor suite to fetch me.

Metaphorically Climbing the stairs, I position myself onto the left side of the little couch (everything’s not quite right yet), arrange the oversized throw pillow into its weekly fit behind my back and sit into the session.

Rubi has this simple yet Superpower ability, without saying a word, to slow down and ground my rushed, shallow breathing by making eye contact and then deepening and lengthening his own breath. I follow. It works every time.

After therapist/patient chit chat, I ramble on about the drive, my reading of the Capote story, Robert’s response to the story, my tears and my dysfunctionally functional, alcohol-soaked family backstory. (HOW does he listen to people like me?) And of course I get moist eyes for the second time in an hour.

One of Rubi’s most practical and helpful pieces of advice is to “assign a number level to your anxiety when it comes, Neal. Attend to it.”

Most of the time, however, when anxiety raises its head, I forget ME and just see HIM/HER/IT. “I must fight this monster!” But Rubi is teaching me that anxiety is not the real enemy. It’s how I try to “manage or control” my anxiety.

I have such difficulty “owning” my anxiety as a part of my lived experience because I often get so caught up in the belief that anxiety truly is my great enemy, instead of perhaps an overprotective friend trying too hard to help.

“It’s all about noticing what you feel, instead of just feeling what you feel,” Rubi explains. “And it’s SO important what you tell yourself about what you feel.”

I usually tell myself that I’m weak, that I need to try harder, that other people don’t deal with these crazy issues. And, by all means, to put up a good front! Be “the best little boy in the world.”

So I’ve got some work to do, and obviously some tight garages to drive through, some ladder-back chairs to sit on and some stairs to climb.

My “homework” assignment from this session is to continue giving a numeric value to my anxiety. To attend to it. To see it. But casually, not too intensely, he emphasized. (I tend to overdo homework.)

I think Rubi is holding up a mirror.

Until next time.

Posted in Hello, Anxiety.

Hello Anxiety: “‘A Christmas Memory’ and My Therapist(s)” Part One

This blog category is the journaling and journey-ing of my quest to say (with cautious sincerity) “Hello, Anxiety” and to take a look at the condition from my “me-andering” views.

My sometimes tumultuous relationship with anxiety is not an easy subject for me to write about. I certainly don’t like experiencing anxiety. And I don’t even like thinking about anxiety, much less writing about it.

It makes me anxious.

I consider myself an optimist at heart and am generally viewed as a positive, upbeat sort of fellow. At least that’s what people tell me. (Has everyone been lying to me all my life?!)

And holidays can be for me (for most folks, I suppose) both joyful and somewhat anxiety ridden. I SO want ALL to be well, including (INCLUDING!) the decorations, my sweater and the Christmas cookies—or this year, the fruitcakes. If you don’t struggle with anxiety at the General Anxiety Disorder level, you may not understand what I mean when I say that the candlestick’s placement, as well as others’ reactions/responses to the candlestick’s placement, is so paramount.

Do you think they’re too close together?

Last week, a few days before Christmas, Robert drove me an hour north of our home in Savannah to Statesboro, for my weekly visit to my therapist. No, not physical therapist, though I’ve gone to those. Robert does most of the driving on these (and nearly all) car trips, and I usually read aloud to him (we just finished our 139th book together!—Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food).

On this short trip, I read Truman Capote’s wondrous autobiographical-ish short story, A Christmas Memory. I LOVE this story, featuring seven-year old Buddy and “special” sixty-ish Cousin and their best friendly shenanigans, culminating in their homemade fruitcake gifting to a wide catalog of folks, including President Roosevelt (!).

Soon after I began the story, and long before a single fruitcake had been baked and soaked in whisky (the partaking of which might have helped me considerably), Anxiety decided to pay me an unwelcome visit. Some folks would suggest that I allowed it, or even invited it, or simply didn’t manage it very effectively. And maybe, they are right. I’m still trying to “understand” my anxiety, to “negotiate” my walking-on-eggshells steps through its territory. (I usually crush the eggshells to smithereens.)

If you’ve read A Christmas Memory, you may recall that narrator Buddy understands and helps the reader understand that even though Cousin is in her sixties, “She is still a child.” And I don’t know how your mind works, but characters and events in stories often remind me of people and situations in my own life. And most of the time, that is perfectly fine. Even fun, or funny. But not on this drive to the Boro.

For on this day Buddy’s Cousin immediately and painfully reminded me of my Aunt Charcie, one of my favorite relatives growing up, who was a little “special” as well. She was my mother’s youngest aunt who lived just up the hill from us. “She wasn’t right in the head,” according to my Granny, her sister.

But Aunt Charcie was able to get married and lived with her alcoholic and abusive husband. As a boy around Buddy’s age (maybe a little older), I hated and couldn’t really understand those times when Mama and I (yes, I was a mama’s boy), would be down the hill at Granny’s and my aunt would walk slowly through the door with a bruised face.

“I’d like to kill that S.O.B,” Granny would roar. I thought that I’d like to kill him too. But nobody did anything except give Aunt Charcie an ice pack and a warm shoulder. Several years and too many similar episodes later, that uncle suddenly died. I can’t remember how … or, weirdly, even his name. But I do remember, with only a little embarrassment today, how perhaps inappropriately happy we all were at his death. Bruises met their end as well.

Before he died, Mama wouldn’t let me go up the hill by myself to visit my aunt. And I knew it had something to do with how sour the uncle always smelled.

As I continued to read the quickly souring A Christmas Memory to Robert, simultaneously recalling the story of my dysfunctional family history, Neal’s Anxiety Dual Symptoms quickly made their presence known: teary eyes and breathing problems. I realize that breath is always with us as long as we are alive, of course it is, it IS us, but that’s just the issue with me and anxiety: in the anxious moment, I don’t believe there is enough oxygen, enough air, to keep me going, to keep me alive. To keep my “Is-ness” “Is-ing.”

With the teary and frustratingly labored breathing came a rush of mental (emotional?) reasons to be anxious: “Life isn’t fair. Why has alcoholism and its deadly consequences woven their way through my family? Will if affect the next generation, the grandchildren? Why are people so cruel? Will Covid ever end. Etc. Etc. Etc.”

Robert (poor loving Robert, aka Therapist #1): “Neal, make room for it.”

I hate and love that advice. I know, at least I academically know, that anxiety is just a part of my experience at this moment, not my entire experience. But how can I remember ANYTHING when I “can’t” breathe?

But I took Robert’s words to heart (if not to my lungs immediately), grabbed my albuterol inhaler, and had a second remembering. After Aunt Charcie’s husband died, she moved into a tiny trailer by herself (blessedly). My mother, Granny and I would visit often. For several Christmases I would take along a wire coat hanger on our visits, walk into the slash pine woods behind the trailer, break off some pine boughs and holly if I could find it and fashion a cheap, scrawny and probably ridiculous looking Christmas wreath for my aunt’s trailer door.

“Neal, that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” And I believed her, for in that moment, it was. And all was well. And I’m almost certain that, as Aunt Charcie, Mama, Granny and I looked at the wiry wonder, all our breathing issued forth smooth, steady and clear.


Part Two will introduce Therapist #2, the one with the credentials waiting for me to finish A Christmas Memory and show up for my appointment.

Posted in Hello, Anxiety.

Hello, Anxiety: “Two Definitions, not Wun”

This blog category is the journaling and journey-ing of my quest to say (with cautious sincerity) “Hello, Anxiety” and to take a look at the condition from my “me-andering” views.

Here are two definitions of ANXIETY. First, from Oxford Languages:

Well, Oxford Languages summed it up pretty well: “Worry, Unease, Nervousness,” otherwise known as WUN. (Truth in blogging: I just made up that acronym.)

Unnecessary sidebar: Did you know that “wun” is an actual word?! At least according to the unrivaled

Uh oh, “Walking with the occasional burst of running for a few seconds, or minutes at best,” not to mention “let’s hope I survive” both sound eerily, anxiously familiar.


A “hypothetical“ convo between Anxiety, Developing Truth and Me:

Me: “Anxiety ain’t gonna wun over me. I’m gonna wun from it.”

Anxiety: “We’ll see.”

Developing Truth: “Neal, it’s not about being adversarial, combative or managerial with Anxiety.”

Anxiety: “Again, we will see.”

Developing Truth: “Breathe and try again, Neal.”

Me: “Okay. I ain’t gonna wun from it. At least I’m gonna try not to.”

Developing Truth: “That’s enough for now.”

Anxiety: “We. Will. See.”


The second definition of Anxiety is from “my sister,” Anxiety Girl:

Whew, that’s enough defining for wun day.

Posted in Hello, Anxiety.

Hello, Anxiety: “Introduction”

Spanning the past year or two, a Perfect Storm of sorts has swirled around my life, mind and body, making direct hits from time to time. The storm was/is created by the following major factors (among others):

* The pandemic’s upheaval of “normal” life as I/we knew it. Causing, at the very least, worry and unease. Affecting everything from family dynamics to personal health concerns.

* The deaths of my dad and brother, as well as husband Robert’s father, stepmother and grandmother, all within the last couple of years.

* The angry and dangerously hateful climate of divisiveness within our communities, states, country and political systems. And the constant, sometimes difficult-to-ignore media coverage.

* Realizing and coming to terms with my life as an older married-to-a-guy (!) gay man, closely connected to my two daughters and their families, as well as my loving ex-wife.

* Being married to a wonderful black man and taking a serious and difficult (often very painful) look at issues of racism and social injustices in our nation and world.

* Even the seemingly silly fact that I’m getting older (I’ll reach the milestone of 70 next January!) and dealing with aging issues, which can seem both unfriendly and foreign.

So a few months back, I came to realize I needed some help. (Duh.) After reading Lori Gottlieb‘s encouraging and often hilarious Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (for the second time), I started looking for a therapist.

It took me a while to narrow the offerings down. Have you ever googled “Therapist near me”?! After all, I stand in the produce aisle, taking forever to decide on the “best” tomatoes, based on color, size, texture, aroma and how-do-they-compare-to-my-childhood-memories-of-homegrown?

What was I looking for? I guess this …

… even though at that point, I had not thought about or considered the word “anxiety” itself. I was experiencing it but not naming it.

I finally found him, and it only took a few sessions for him to gently say one day, “Neal, I think it’s pretty clear that you have generalized anxiety disorder.”

I was a tiny bit insulted. I think what I desired to hear was somewhere along the lines of, “Oh my goodness, Neal, you are a terrifically well adjusted man. Now go and BE that. You can do it. You ARE it!”

When I could breathe easier, I realized he was right.

This new blog category is the journaling and journey-ing of my quest to be able to say “Hello, Anxiety” and to take a look at the Perfect Storm. I invite you to join me.

But I’ll supply the tomatoes.