The new book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – And The Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari, has had a strong impact on me. As someone who suffers from anxiety, I am always looking for solutions. This book took a different approach from what I usually read and is a worthy companion to the multitude of other books addressing anxiety and depression. One area he writes about is how our pain is important. Our pain tells us something and we should listen to it rather than stifle it.
The book opens up with a story about when the author was in Vietnam. He had eaten a toxic apple and begins violently vomiting. When he gets to a doctor, the doctor tells him that the vomiting saved him. Had he stopped the vomiting, he would have died. The doctor told him, “You need your nausea. It is a message. It will tell us what is wrong with you.” This thesis continues throughout the book. How can we allow the pain to last long enough to diagnose the problem? Often stifling the pain merely masks the symptom and does not allow us to dig deeper.
Hari argues that depression and anxiety may be very appropriate reactions to what we are experiencing in our life and changing our circumstances might be exactly what we need to address our feelings. He identifies seven Reconnections we need in our society to help heal the rising number of people suffering from depression and anxiety. “Reconnecting with Other People” is number one on his list. As an introvert, I struggle with this. I happily take advantage of all technology that allows me to live in my quiet space—amazon instead of shopping, texting instead of talking, social media instead of group events. So I was concerned. Were all introverts doomed?
But an experience I had last week clarified things for me. I realized how I could maintain my introversion and still enhance my reconnection with other people. Last week I had horrible cramps. During that time of the month, I usually try to slow down and be extra kind to myself, but that day was just a busy day and there was nothing I could about it. I was making dinner and was about to grab an Advil to deal with the pain. At that same moment, my husband walked into the house. I thought about the book and decided to listen to my pain. Sure I could take an Advil and keep moving at a crazy pace, but what I really needed was to lie down on the couch and give myself a break. Then, I thought about the idea of reconnecting with other people. I asked my husband, who had literally just walked in from a long day at work, to please jump in and take over making dinner so I could put my feet up. He did and I was able to relax knowing that dinner was now in his capable hands. My pain alerted me to what my body needed. I needed rest. And it also allowed me to reconnect with my husband. I revealed my vulnerability and he did not dismiss it instead he validated my need and helped me. I don’t have to go to parties or shopping malls to connect. I just need to reach out when I need it and feel heard.
When reflecting back on my life, I realize some of the most beautiful memories are when I reached out and allowed people to help me with my pain. When my kids were little, I lived in a community where we all helped each other. We were a bunch of exhausted moms who had little help. We created playgroups, watched each other’s kids and kept each other company. Being a new mom can be incredibly lonely. Somehow we were lucky enough to turn our pain into a wonderful and supportive community.
Listening to our pain rather than covering it up is a valuable tool to help direct our choices. What is your pain telling you and are there ways to dig deep and make changes to the root of the problem rather than covering the pain? Finding community that works for my personality is an effective way for me to address my anxiety and is a priority for me going forward. As I take another step towards my 50th birthday and adapt to parenting teenagers, my village needs have changed. But I plan to make an effort to reach out to others and get the help I need whenever I need to ease the pain.