The Cure for Anxiety

Sadness. That is the cure for anxiety. But let me explain. Or you can read our book that devotes a whole chapter to the “cure for anxiety.” In this brief blog I will attempt to do several things:

  • Explain what anxiety is along with its cousins: worry, fretting, fear, and outright terror
  • Explain why anxiety is without a doubt one of the most resistant of all psychological difficulties people have, like depression, relationship problems, vocational problems, and general living problems.
  • Explain some of the underlying neurological functions that cause, create, and maintain anxiety once it gets into one’s psychological system

The neuropsychology

I distinguish the mind and the brain as I have explained in Mind over Matter blogs before. I use the term “mind” to describe our thinking, feeling, and acting. The brain is the machine the mind uses to do such things. There is great debate about this matter, however, with some very good neuropsychologists suggesting that the mind is the brain, while others, like myself, believe that there is an as yet undefined element in the human condition that we consider to be the operator of the brain. I’m afraid you’ll have to be content with the fact that we are all theorizing about how things work in the brain. But let me defer this discussion to previous blogs and other psychologists’ writings.

Aside from whether there is a real mind/brain difference, some things are quite well known. The brain (in my understanding) engages in only two operations that keep things going in the body: safety and pleasure. We discussed the pleasure side of the brain when we discussed “liking and wanting” as different operations of the brain, both related to pleasure. So this function of the brain seeks pleasure, mostly through chemicals, such as dopamine, and sometimes through electrical operations. The more important of the two things that the brain does, however, is safety. In other words, your brain works most diligently and constantly on keeping you alive. Central to this keeping you alive is the brain’s fantastic operation of keeping blood flowing in the body, originating in the heart and then to the rest of the body. Blood oxygenizes the body’s cells with blood and simultaneously cleanses these cells from material that needs to be dispenses. While the brain looks to pleasure when possible, something like 99% of the brain looks for safety. Our wonderful brain is doing this protection all the time, every second of our lives.

The brain is wonderful in protecting you and finding pleasure for you, these 100 neurons (brain cells) operating sometimes with trillions of connections to one another. But the brain is sort of stupid in anything else than pleasure and safety. For instance, the brain (again, not the mind) does not know what the mind knows, like love, trust, honesty, work, play, and the many other elements of character, relationships, and daily living. Importantly, the brain does not have an understanding of time. The brain does not know any difference between past, present, and future. In the brain, these three elements of time are all conceived as present. So when the brain senses that something might happen in the future, that future is right now or at best, a second or two in the future. This fact, namely that the brain doesn’t distinguish future from present is very important in the cause, maintenance, and ultimate cure for anxiety.

The brain’s resistance to threat

If you keep in mind that the brain is spending most of its time taking care of the body and protecting the body from harm, you get the picture as to why the brain needs to do this and how it does this. The brain (not the mind) has a startle reflex, for instance, that overrides anything else on your mind when you are started in some way, usually with a loud noise, but also sometimes by something visually that startles you, or perhaps even something that startles you in one of the other three senses (smell, taste, and touch). You don’t have to think, much less feel, when you touch a hot pan by accident while you’re cooking. You don’t have to think or feel when you see fire in that same kitchen. Your startle reaction operates in your olfactory lobe (smell) if you smell something odd in the kitchen. Startle reaction is just one of the ways the brain takes care of you by taking immediate action when the brain perceives something that is dangerous or could be dangerous because it is not within the norm of daily living.

The brain’s protective mechanism operates wonderfully all the time and keeps us alive. Unfortunately, this same protective mechanism also operates when there may not be any immediate or actual threat because the brain doesn’t distinguish a current threat from a future threat. When your brain senses some kind of threat, it goes into hyper drive in order to protect you from danger. This hyper drive comes in the forms of increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, increased breathing, and increased sensual awareness. Increased sensual awareness is in all five senses: sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch. In other words, when the brain senses some threat, it garners all the defenses: chemical, electrical, and sensual to protect you from this perceived threat. These increases are much like what it may have been like for primitive humankind to be faced with the sight of a lion coming over the hill: the brain sees the lion and immediately does the chemical and electrical changes in your body so that you can run. Hopefully, the brain churned up these defenses in time for you to protect yourself. If a lion were chasing you in the Serengeti, for instance, you would be experiencing a pretty high level of anxiety, like life-and-death anxiety. Thank you brain for keeping you aware of possible escape routes from the charging lion.

The cause of anxiety

Anxiety is devastating. It is a well-known fact that that many, if not most, visits to the ER have at least some anxiety driving these visits. Millions of people have thought they were having heart attacks, raced to the ER, and had all kinds of expensive tests, only to find out that there “was nothing wrong with them,” often to their great disappointment. Anxiety has many forms, including the rather popular current diagnoses of PTSD and OCD, but more often anxiety is what is called “free-floating.” In other words, people “just feel anxious for no apparent reason.” Well, there is a reason but it is not that they are having heart attacks or making this stuff up to get attention. Nor is it true that “nothing is wrong with them.” Something is “wrong,” but it has nothing to do with their bodies or minds. What is wrong is that their brains have somehow concluded that the lion is coming over the hill, or something equally dangerous. Why would the brain think such a thing? Most of us don’t roam the Serengeti and few of us have to contend with lions around. The brain should know that, so it seems. The brain does not know that. The brain thinks something very much like “the lion is coming over the hill, so you have to be hypervigilant.

How does this happen. How does the brain think something crazy like the lion is coming after you when there is no lion? It does so because the brain has heard a message from the mind that there is some immediate danger. So, the brain goes into its normal operation of increasing heartrate, blood flow, breathing, and hypervigilance to keep you hyperaware of your surroundings. Anxiety is essentially hyperawareness. Why?

The brain creates what we call anxiety for you to be hyperaware of your surroundings and “protect you from the lion coming over the hill.” The brain does not distinguish different kinds of dangers. The brain does not distinguish dangers: danger is danger, whether it is the spider or the lion. So anything that the brain determines is some kind of threat will start the chain reaction in the brain of upping the various elements of the body to protect you, primarily by making you hypervigilant.

Not only does not brain fail to distinguish kinds of threats, the brain does not distinguish the present from the future. And this the crux of the problem with anxiety. When you think of something aversive that might happen in the future, it is your mind that is doing this thinking, not your brain. Let’s say your boss has called a meeting with you on Monday morning but she didn’t tell you what she wanted to talk to you about. This kind of situation can cause “anxiety,” namely worrying about what your boss might say to you, or God forbid, that you might get demoted or fired. So it seems natural that you would worry about this future meeting. Unfortunately, your brain does not know any of this: it does not know that you work, it does not know you have a boss, it does not know about the meeting, and it does not know about the future. So, when you brain hears from your mind that you have a potential meeting that could be deleterious for you, your brain assumes “the lion is coming over hill,” and wants to send you into hyper drive.

Then, to make matters worse, your brain sort of “talks” back to your mind about this potential danger because the brain can’t think. It is the mind that thinks. The message from the mind to the brain started this cycle moving by telling the brain that there is some danger. You brain assumed this danger was immediate and started the hypervigilance, but it didn’t stop there. The brain then sent the mind the message that the mind needed to figure out what to do. Now we have this ongoing cycle with the mind telling the brain that there is danger and the brain talking back to the mind asking the mind to figure it out. So the mind tries to figure it out. How does the mind do that? By worrying about worst case scenarios like, “If he fires me, where will I get another job?” or “if he criticizes me for my performance, how can I defend myself” and the like. Of course this fretting does no good but, all the while the brain is sort of insisting that the mind come up with a solution to the problem it perceives as “the lion coming over the hill.”

Unless there is some way to stop this cycle of considering danger (the mind), reacting to danger (the brain), and then fretting (the mind again), anxiety will stay present and very possibly increase. If the brain determines that there is no immediate solution to what it perceives as the lion coming, it will do what it does: create more hypervigilance. How do we break this cycle?

The cure of anxiety

Read the first word again in this blog: sadness. The cure for anxiety is sadness, however odd that sounds. This is what I mean: you have to face the potential loss, feel this potential loss by feeling sad, and resolve this sadness. Easily said, not easily done. Anxiety in all its forms (fear, worry, fretting) keeps therapists busy trying to calm people down and physicians busy prescribing anxiolytics to treat the symptoms of anxiety. But neither really works to cure anxiety. There is no “settling down” someone who is in a state of anxiety because the brain perceives “the lion is coming over the hill.” You can’t talk to the brain about jobs, meetings, and the like, and you certainly can’t talk to the brain about the future because the brain, this wonderful machine, has no capacity to understand such things. You have to get the mind involved. You have to get the mind and the brain to work together the way these two elements work together 99% of the time. How do you do that?

You cure anxiety by considering the loss you might have, feeling sad about this potential loss, and allow this sadness to end. This is what you need to do: truly consider the worst case scenario. In our theoretical case, you need to consider that you would be fired. Then you have to feel sad about possibly being fired. This is what we call anticipatory sadness because you are anticipating some important loss in the future and allowing yourself to feel the sadness about this possible loss. It sounds crazy, I know, but this is the only way to cure anxiety, namely feeling sad in the present about something that might happen in the future. Note the tenses here: feeling sad in the present for something that might happen in the future. You can learn to do this with a little practice, but let me warn you, you don’t want to do it. You don’t want to feel sad about losing a job that is important to you; you don’t want to consider that your daughter with cancer might die; you don’t want to consider that your house will be robbed. And you don’t want to feel sad about these things because they haven’t happened. You know that they haven’t happened. But this “you” is your mind, not your brain. Your brain thinks that something really dangerous is happening and needs to be fixed. The only way out of the cycle of anxiety is to feel this anticipatory sadness. The sadness will end.

The interesting thing about sadness is that it always ends. Anxiety does not end. It can go on for years or a lifetime and get worse in the process. But if you lose something you love, you will feel sad for a period and eventually finish feeling sad. An even more devastating phenomenon that occurs with people is depression. Depression is the collections of many losses that have not been felt and finished, and have collected to such a degree that your brain shuts down interest in life in order to cope with the fact of these many losses.

So try it out. When you feel anxious about something, ask yourself the question, “What might I lose?” Then you will discover that you might lose something that is important to you, something that you love. Then allow yourself to feel the sadness you would feel if you would actually lose this something. Dare to feel this sadness now about what you might lose in the future. You will feel sad for a moment or two, maybe longer, but eventually, your anticipatory sadness will end.

Further Reading

Previous blogs on feelings

Johnson, R. and Brock, D. (2017). The Positive Power of Sadness. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger

LeDoux, J. (2015). Anxious: using the brain to understand and treat fear and anxiety. New York: Viking Press.

One taxi, two taxi, three taxi then four. Taxi (Life) Lessons in Portugal

Taxis: the good, the bad, and the ugly

When Ron and I travel in a foreign country, we rarely use taxis, so the whole experience of using them is a bit “foreign” to me. We’re usually driving, riding the train, or just walking. But when I recently went to Portugal by myself, I had planned to use taxis a bit more because I didn’t want to waste too much time finding buses and walking miles in hours to get to my destination hike. Furthermore, I had heard that taxis in Portugal were rather inexpensive, efficient, and friendly, so I looked forward to the convenience while getting from A to Z in Portugal.

Taxi #1: the vile ride

The first ride, what I have come to call “the vile ride,” was such a misrepresentation of the good of humanity that I can only do what we learned while living in St. John’s Newfoundland and affectionately call “the Newfie Nod” a specific side cock of the head which can denote a number of things from a simple greeting to an emotional “oh well, what are you doing to do about it?”

I had just arrived in Lisbon, still at the airport and went outside to find a taxi ride to my night’s lodging. I just assumed you go to curb side and wave your hand, but I quickly learned that it was required of me to go through the “cow corral” like the other hundreds of people and wait your turn. I took a few steps, stopped, took a few steps, stopped, turned one corner, took a few steps and waited, and on and on all the while wondering just how many taxis there could possibly be because the wait wasn’t a wait for a taxi to arrive, but for the seemingly equally long line of taxis to simply take their turn to pick up those of us waiting our turn. My turn came and before I could even take a breath the taxi driver was out of the car and had opened the boot. I waved him on by motioning to my back pack still strapped on, saying I will keep my pack on and began to get into the back seat. The driver remained outside and then with quite a huff, he slammed the boot and got in the car.  Then, having been instructed to do so by the hostess of the guess house to which I was going, I asked the driver that It would be “around 15 euros, right?” Then like a bolt from the sky he turned to me and with a face as fierce as his word he sharply spoke “You have no respect for me!”

Being taken back, I didn’t immediately say anything, which would have been impossible anyway for he went right on, repeating that I have no respect for him and that whenever he travels, he is respectful. His chastisement in tone and gesture indicated I was possibly the most of low life he had yet encountered.  Within a few moments of his barrage I attempted to down scale the tone by indicating that I was easier for me to keep the pack on given it was strapped to my body and I was already seated and that I didn’t want an extra expense by putting it the boot. Then regarding the amount, in my honest attempt at redemption told him that I had been informed of the approximate cost and simply wanted to confirm the expected amount. This explanation along with my subsequent apology was to no avail for he informed me again in no uncertain terms that I have “no respect,” that he did not know the amount, that the meter would tell him, and he would charge me for the luggage anyway.

Silly me, I then tried to assure him that this being my first day in Portugal I was just going by the recommendations rendered only to be met again with his spewing. Now, given he had already started driving, his suggestion that perhaps I would like another taxi, was a bit late. Finally determining that this man simply wanted an argument I declared that I would no longer discuss this in anger. He sped on and I held on for dear life as he acted out his temperament though his driving jerking across lanes, around vehicles of all sizes and barely keeping all four tires grounded through the round-a-bouts in what surely exceeded even the tourism warning of fast taxi drivers.

In a continued heated silence, we neared my destination. He slowed down, checked the address, stopped the taxi. In preparation for my departure, I had set my mind to be as kind as I could and display a genuine regard for him despite himself. After I paid the due 18 Euro and began to exit the car I said “I wish you well”. However, as soon as the door was closed and he began to sped off I could hear him say with his head out his window “fuck you”.

Taxi # 2: an honest mistake.

Having enjoyed my evening in Lisbon (on foot), I awoke to a beautiful morning enjoying what seemingly only European cities can provide, the most delightful sidewalk cafes filled with leisured patrons and nearby pastry shops to die for.  I did my best to also “take it easy” for a short time although I was anxious to get on my way to the Metro which would take me to the major bus stop where I intended to get a ticket to Porto Covo to begin my hiking excursion down the Fisherman’s Trail along Portugal’s beautiful coast. Once I arrived at the bus station, I was disappointed to learn that I had missed the first bus and there was not another bus available until 4 PM. Shoot. It was only about 9:30 which meant another 6.5 hours till the bus left and then another four hours on the bus. Ten hours. Darn. I had already lost one day due to a lengthy delay out of Chicago which in turn caused a missed connection out of Madrid to Lisbon. I didn’t want to delay my hiking intention and end up just being a “tourist” for a full day so I sought out a taxi. I found an attendant outside the bus station and asked about taxis going as far as Porto Covo. He waved his hand in an easy manner as he said that of course taxis would take me anywhere I wanted to go. He directed me to the taxi stand where again, standing in a line (short one, thank goodness) I asked the locals about taxis. They widened their eyes when I said Porto Covo and kept them wide in facial warning that it would be expensive! Humph. I waited my turn and began my internal debate of choosing between the utiles of time or money.

When “my taxi” pulled up I leaned in the window and asked if he could drive me to Porto Covo. “Porto Covo?”, he asked, as if he had just hit a gold mine.  “Yes, Porto Covo, can you do a longer ride this morning?” I asked how long it would take and how much it would cost, off the meter (I thought that I might need a bargaining chip). He had to check. I leaned back out of the window while he did his research. He came back to me with a hesitant smile and reported that it would be 100 klicks and about as many euros. I asked for a firm price. He then stated firmly that he would drive me to Porto Covo for 100 euros plus whatever the highway tolls might be, maybe as much as 30 euros. I confirmed that it would be off the meter and a flat fee for the mileage plus tolls. He re-confirmed. I bit my lip as I studied his face. He looked good, “clean” as I like to describe relatively healthy people. “Okay, let’s do it but I need you to give me a few minutes to go to the bathroom and get the cash (he wouldn’t take a credit card, his bargaining chip, I suppose).” He said sure, and showed me where he would be waiting. I jogged back to the bus station, did my duty and grabbed a quick espresso, having an absolutely lovely encounter with the young man serving me, and then giddily jogged back down to the waiting taxi. I was excited as I got in his cab because I was going I was going H-I-K-I-N-G!  He was excited too as he gestured to the meter to prove it was a cash agreement. He was going to get P-A-I-D! And so the two of us, each happy in our own way took off. I had no interest in conversation, looking forward to viewing the country side but I did venture to declare to him that I was an honest person and he returned the favor of noting that he too was a good and honest person. What could possibly go wrong with an easy morning 100-euro excursion? Within a few klicks I loosened up and offered that I had just turned 64 the week before and had come to his beautiful land to hike the Fisherman’s Trail. He had recently turned 62 and had not been to Porto Covo for many, many years and thought it would be nice to see the little seaside village again. That was the extent of our conversation. Traffic was easy, we were out of the city within a short time and on the main expressway passing various sites common to such drives. The silent ride was pleasant and going smoothly. After a bit we hit the wine country to which I gleefully exclaimed “Portugal Vino!” He turned to look out the window and chuckled, “yes, vineyards…good wine, Portugal. Good wine.” We rode on. Two good honest introverts doing their own thing made for a pleasant ride as I followed along my scant map noting the sign posts for a few of the cities and regions along the way.

The road stretched on and then I heard him sigh. I paid no mind knowing it was a “long ride”.  A short time passed then I heard him sign again.  And then, again but louder. I realized, that yes, this really was feeling like a long ride and that we should be there soon. And then yet again I heard him sigh as he began to dishevel his hair with his hand. I wondered what was going on. I noted that awhile back I had heard an alarm ping on his phone but I had paid it no mind and didn’t make the connection until he said that there was a mistake. A mistake?  He confirmed as he pulled off the highway (we had already gotten off the toll way and were on a lesser trafficked dual highway) onto a bit of gravel patch on which an abandoned car was sitting…just what was this mistake???

He held up his phone and said it was wrong, it was not 100 km, but 175! OUCH. No wonder it was feeling “long”.  My first thought was this is going to take longer than the expected hour while I simultaneously knew he was concerned that this was an unmetered ride. He reiterated that this was a mistake and did the hand in the hair thing again. I tried to keep the calm by saying “let’s think this though” but I knew it wasn’t going to work when he said “this is an omen!”. “No, no omen”, I said, “just a mistake.” “Are we on the right road?” I asked, wanting to get control of the situation “Yes, I know the road” he said in frustration, “but the kilometers are wrong!” He had me look at the speedometer he had set on trip. Yes, I could see it was already well over 100 km, and Google was now telling him there were 35 more to go.

I knew right then that there were a few decisions that were going to have to be made and that I wasn’t going to foot the full bill on this but thought it best that I keep my musings to myself. Sitting there on the side of the road I simply noted that he agreed to get me to Porto Covo. Bless his honest soul, he sighed again, this time with his hand to his forehead, and turned back onto the road. I silently began to calculate how much cash I had immediately available and how I could assist without taking advantage of him or allowing him take advantage of me. I had no doubt this was simply one of those “honest mistakes” that had to be swallowed, I just wasn’t yet sure by which of us. Besides we both stated we were honest people and I believed it to be true.

A bit more down the road we hit a roundabout and I saw a sign for Porto Covo that my driver had missed. Granted we were now on “country roads” and the signs were not posted as they would have been on the expressway. “Now what is happening?”, I began to think: did he miss the sign, was there a shorter route that he knew about, or was he just so distressed he wasn’t paying attention. We got past the roundabout and I looked back and again I saw the sign for Porto Covo pointing the other way. I spoke up and he looked back. Again he pulled off the road, turned around and looked at the sign and cursed Google and smacked the phone with the back of his knuckles.  He turned the car around and followed the signs to Porto Covo.  Thank the Portuguese gods, we only had a few more klicks to go. Once we were in the small town I told him to just stop anywhere.  He stopped. I took ahold of my back pack, opened the door and then handed him the 100 euros reminding him that this is what we had agreed on. Then I handed him 30 more euros letting him know that I watched the toll fees as they registered and that they weren’t even close to 30 but wanted to ease some of his distress for the honest mistake. Then, in the last moment I gave him ten more euros and he just shook his head and said “Oh, lady!” which sadly wasn’t in appreciation but in disappointment that I did not pay a euro each for the full 175 kilometers plus tolls.  I said I was sorry and got out of his car. I shut the door and felt very sad. I knew in many ways he lost more than I did. I began walking into town, and within a few minutes I saw him circle around. I didn’t heed him and he didn’t stop. Bless his heart.

Taxi # 4: Do you know where you’re going? (Yes, I am skipping to number 4 intentionally.)

I had the most wonderful five days hiking along the coast. It was everything I had been told, or had read that it was and now, back in Lisbon having savored a real touristy day and evening was back on the metro to return to my hotel which was about 3 klicks from the airport, as the crow flies, anyway. I made sure I noted where I had gotten on the metro and even took a picture of it on my phone for easy reference so I could get off at the same place. Once I got in the train, given the time of day, it was exceedingly busy and we were really crammed in. I mean crammed in. I thought about making a joke that I was glad I wasn’t going to be having sardines for dinner, but declined knowing that a lot of people don’t “get my jokes”. We jostled about and waited for the train to move. It didn’t. We shuffled and waited some more. Then the doors opened again and closed again. I knew this wasn’t the way the metro doors usually behaved. I asked some young men who had already interpreted for me and they said that there was some trouble. Obviously. Anyway, tight to the ribs we were. So tight in fact, that very jovial lady’s breast was solidly braced against my hand which held the floor pole. It struck me as interesting really. She didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t seem to care, or perhaps, who knows, maybe she was liking it. I am in Europe, after all. I couldn’t tell. She seemed happy enough, chatting and laughing with her friends. I figured she just wasn’t aware of it. But being a comparatively prudish American in a tram full of Europeans, I figured it was just me that was uncomfortable with this situation: a woman’s breast solidly pressed against my hand. Then of course, I began to wonder, as my eyes widened, what part of my anatomy was pressed up against someone? I tried not to laugh for fear it if were true I might jiggle that body part. I mused as to whether my fellow sardine travelers might wonder if I were aware of my body parts pressed up against them in some way. I laughed at myself again thinking, “Deb, this is Europe, not Wisconsin” and just did in Lisbon what Lisboetas evidently do in the sardined subway: I just smiled and hung on as if full body contact with a stranger was the most natural thing in the world.

As you can guess the tram did eventually move but the announcement was made that it would only go to a given juncture and not continue on its scheduled route. Okay, that meant that I would not be getting off where I got on which in turn meant I would not know where I was and how to retrace my passage back to the hotel (No, I didn’t think to use google any more than my previous taxi driver did). So, when the sardined tram finally came to a stop and the breasted lady got off in front me of, I left too privately noting if I could feel any release of human flesh from any given portion of my anatomy (I didn’t). I found a taxi just outside the metro station and leaned in to ask how far to my destination. He wasn’t immediately sure of the location until I told him it was about 3 Km from the airport as a matter of general reference and then he vigorously nodded his head and said with an unbending confidence “7 euros”. Great! I got in his taxi. Being in early evening traffic there were a lot of stops at lights during which times I noticed he kept fiddling with his phone. Then I realized he had circled around (I am not making these stories up!) He said he was sorry, he would find it. He would find it???? He is one of hundreds if not a thousand plus taxi drivers in Lisbon and he doesn’t know where the f… he is and where the f… he is going? He would find it? No less than three times, he said “Sorry, I will find it.” He then asked if I smoked? No. He asked if it was okay if he smoked and I responded with some kind of “please don’t.” He did his own rendition of sighs and hair gesturing.  Again, he was sorry and quickly stopped at a light, rolled down his window, and asked another taxi going the other way along the boulevard if he knew the Rue I was going to. That taxi driver shrugged and left when the light turned.  “Sorry” again he said to me. Then it was I who suggested he try Google maps. With this he finally pulled the cab over and stopped and punched my address into his phone. All I could do was roll my eyes. “Okay” he said, “I know where!” Great.  We got there eventually, but in a lot more than 7 kilometers. Even so, by golly, I was going to stick to his word. I paid him his 7 euros and walked away.

Taxi # 3: unexpected generosity 

Bear with me please, this is the best of them all.  Really.

So, I had just finished the last segment of my five days hiking along Fisherman’s Trail. It was wonderful. I knew that morning when I set out that I was only going to go part way since I was going to return to my previous night’s lodging in preparation for my BUS ride the next day to Lisbon. As I was hiking along the sea cliffs, savoring the last bit of the pounding surf I came to the trails end before I would go overland to the town of Rogil where I knew I would be able…to get a…taxi…back to Odeceixe. I assumed anyway, that I could and would.  Besides, if I couldn’t, I knew I would just back trek on the trail even if it would be a very long day doing so.

After what became a longer than I expected hike through farm land and off beat paths I reached Rogil. Staying on the inland road I reached a lovely coffee shop at the junction of the main highway. As I ordered a double espresso, I asked the owner if there would be any trouble getting a taxi back to Odeceixe. He shook his head and said “No trouble, easy.” Music to my ears, of course. I asked him that if after I finished my espresso would he call a cab for me. He smiled. Feeling confident and a bit hungry I ordered one of those nice little chicken pastries with my espresso.  I dropped my pack, took out my camera for a few last shots of the lovely gardens around the patio, and sipped my espresso and ate my little pie. I went back in and placed my cup and saucer on the counter and indicated I was ready for the taxi and he nodded affirmingly as if it was the surest thing in the world.

Within a minute he came out to the table and said that there was trouble with the taxi. I shuffled my feet as if to personally signal preparedness to keep on trekking… “Okay, trouble, of course, taxis!” I barely had time to think as he proceeded to tell me that both taxis were busy and were not available. But, without missing a beat he went on to say that he was going to drive me in his car.

He would drive me in his car? Oh, he is a taxi guy too. Okay, great. Really great. I grabbed my back pack and followed him down the back side of his espresso shop expecting a taxi cab to be sitting there. No, this was his personal car and as I stood there while this dear man began to clear out the passenger seat and floorboard of loose papers and empty coffee cups and all such things that tend to accumulate, I realized he wasn’t a taxi driver in addition to running an espresso café, but rather, this man was a good man who “promised me” a taxi would be available and was literally going to personally drive me to Odeceixe. And he did.  It was a delightful ride of about ten klicks in which in his limited English told me about his two children. One, his “woman child”, who was 21 (he wrote the number in the dust on his dash board given he wasn’t sure how to say the number), is away at college studying math. And his “man child” was 19, again, he wrote the number further down the dash dust board. The man child I learned is very good with computers and is at a tech school doing auto computer engineering. I indicated that he must be proud. He got the jest and nodded his head with a bit of embarrassed joy.

He took me into Odeceixe. As I got out he did too and retrieved my back pack from the boot of his car. We shook hands and then I gave him ten euros. Again, he embarrassingly smiled and took the ten-note. He turned his car around in the village square and as he banked the corner out of town he waved. Such a great taxi man, I thought. How wonderful humanity is.

Moral of the stories: win some loose some. But in the end, we win.  I believe this.

Granted there are rough and ugly people in life, like the first taxi driver who seemingly was determined to have a bad day for whatever his reason. Sometimes, we just have to call a spade a spade and let them go, hopefully without harm. God forbid he had been the driver down to Porto Covo!

Sometimes, there is simple ignorance and just plain honest mistakes.  They are going to happen. It doesn’t matter if it is me or the other guy who makes them. We have to let them come, think them through, do what we think is best and then, let them go.

Most importantly though, there are so many wonderfully good and kind people, all around the world. Certainly, I encountered numerous of them in Portugal both in the towns and on the trails: Germans, Scandinavians, South Africans, Australians, Swiss, Italians, Dutch, Canadians, and of course the Portuguese. Oh, and would you believe, only one other American did I encounter on the trails, all who were quick to smile, assumed for you a good day, happy to share a stranger’s meal, lend a hand up a ragged cliff or give you a promised ride when the other drivers were busy.

Everywhere, always, I believe there will be glorious moments of respite and the best of humanity will shine forth. I choose to focus on this.

Life of Ryan I: The Easy Life

(NB: this and following Life of Ryan blogs are coming under my personal blog rather than from him directly. The reason for that will become obvious to readers. “Ryan” (not his real name) has given me permission to post these blogs. Read and consider your thoughts and feelings. If you choose to respond, do so on the blog or directly to me: ron.johnson@midlandspsychological.com. I will pass it along to Ryan.)

My name is Ryan. I’m writing to you from my home, a home where I have lived for the last 20 years, longer than I lived in any other home. It is good home, and it serves me well, but I often hate it.

It’s not the brick or mortar that I hate. The physical structure is fine. There is nothing wrong with how the walls and ceilings have been built, seemingly by very good tradesmen. I never have to worry about the electric or plumbing needing repair, or the roof needing redone. In fact, a person couldn’t ask for a more solid structure. In fact, it’s a rare time that anything goes wrong with the structure. Home owners should be so lucky.

It’s not the people in my home that I hate. The people are quite nice, at least for the most part. They do a fine job taking care of me. In fact, they do more for me than most people get from their co-inhabitants. I never have to do laundry or the vacuuming. I never have to do the dishes. I don’t even have to fix meals. The other people in my “home” do all that stuff. What other man is so lucky to be treated like a king of his castle?

You should be as lucky as me. I just sit back and enjoy all these privileges: house repaired as necessary; household duties taken care of; meals prepared regularly. People stop by to see me and chat from time to time. I’m even given in-house entertainment, like games and parties. I just sit back and watch all this work being done. Just sit back and watch TV, play video games, and keep up with my Facebook friends. Well, that doesn’t always work because my computer goes down from time to time and I have to wait for the IT guy to show up and fix it. But this is not so bad because all the other things in my home are taken care of. And get this: I have two people in my household who actually give me a bath. For the most part I have nothing to do but hang out while I watch all these things being taken care of. You should be so lucky. Living the good life, yes?

It sure seems like to the good life, doesn’t it? There is a slight problem with my being the king of my castle with all these privileges. What could possibly be missing from this scenario where all the necessary things of life are being taken care of for me? What could possibly be wrong with my just sitting back and watching TV while everyone else in my home goes about doing household duties? What’s wrong is this: the only thing I can do is “sit back and watch TV while everyone else in my home goes about doing household duties.”

I am not able to do the dishes and repair the roof. I am not able to fix the plumbing and re-wire the kitchen. I am not able to shovel the snow in the winter and cut the grass in the summer. I am not even able to change the channel on my TV. In fact, it is quite an effort for me to actually play video games and get on Facebook and do email. It actually takes my breath away to get on Facebook and check my emails on my computer. It literally takes my breath away to do these things. I huff and puff to do this small task. Well, not exactly huff and puff; more accurately I sip and puff when I’m trying to navigate my way around the computer.

Puffing and sipping is the only way I can operate my computer because I have multiple sclerosis. I can’t move. I can’t move at all. All I can do is sip and puff. I can’t move my arms. I can’t move my legs. So I can’t scratch that itch on my leg. I used to have a little use of one of my arms and hands, which helped me greatly because I could change the TV channel, migrate the mouse on my computer, and use my electric wheel chair. All that disappeared several years ago, and I am left with speech as my only means of communication with the world around me. But even that is waning, something that tends to happen with MS patients as the muscles surrounding speech began to deteriorate. I can go from speaking normally to whispering to moving my lips without any sound at all depending on how these speech-based muscles want to cooperate.

It must sound odd to hear someone say that he wishes he could fix the drain in the bathroom, shovel the snow, cut the lawn, repair the kitchen electric, or climb on the roof to repair the leak. But that is exactly what I wish I could do. Even more so, I wish I could get on the floor and wrestle with my grandchildren. I so wish for lots more, like kissing these grandchildren, and my own children, and my wife, but even this is a huge effort that is rarely made. Besides, who wants to kiss such a bump on the log when the guy can’t simultaneously wrap his arms around you?

All of this sound like so much complaining. I suppose it is. I try real hard not to complain. Yes, sometimes it is a challenge to puff on the mechanism that alerts the staff of some need I might have, and even more of a challenge to wait for an hour to have someone respond to my call. But for the most part, I am not inclined to complaining. In fact, my psychologist has asked me to “feel bad for myself” every day. He says that it would be good for me to “just feel bad” for a while. I don’t see the point. In my mind, it’s going to be the same thing today as it was yesterday and the same thing tomorrow. So what’s the point of feeling bad for myself? It just seems like so much complaining.

By the way, this same psychologist has taught me a new word that is relevant to this discussion: amanuensis. I understand this is a sophisticated word that means ghost writer. He has initiated this current monologue and may be willing to help me with others. He is my amanuensis: he writes what I tell him to write. Well, he is a bit more of a writer than I am, so the words are largely his. But the ideas and the feelings are mine. I tell him what I am thinking or feeling and then he goes home and writes up some kind of monologue like the present one.

I plan to do more of these. The idea came up during one of the conversations that I had with my psychologist. I told him that I was disappointed in my “legacy.” But that is the next edition of Ryan.