Pete Burgess

Clearing the Fog

April 8, 2020

The following is a post that I have been meaning to write for a while. Before I get into it, I want to stress that I am not a doctor. I do not profess at all to be a mental specialist or someone who should be looked to for help treating mental health. The below comments are meant to be a personal perspective that I would like to share and are not intended to be taken in place of any form of proper therapy or professional help. I hope this post could be comforting to those who read it but please, if you find yourself in need of help, stop reading and contact your doctor or a specialist.

Have you ever been lost in a fog? A thick fog where you can barely see anything in front of you. A fog so dense, that there doesn’t seem to be a beginning or an end to your surroundings. Have you experienced a fog where if you take only a few steps in any direction, you lose where you are and even where you’ve been? Have you been in a fog that feels like it is closing in on you, and you have no idea where to turn to get out of it? A fog that is disorienting, confusing, and leaves you debilitated. You try making your way to safety, but you bump into things––objects in your way no matter which direction you travel. You become frantic, and after hitting enough objects, you stop. You’re bruised and helpless; you can’t go any further. You’re stuck. You’re hopeless. Have you experienced a fog like that? I have been in a fog-like that.

The fog I am referring to isn’t a physical fog, though, but a mental one. For me, the mental fog I experienced was brought on by a variety of circumstances over time. As I tried to navigate through that fog, these stressful circumstances were like objects that I would bump into, and they would weaken me. I would have moments of despair, little panic attacks, but I would continue walking in the fog bumping into things. Finally, I got to the point where I couldn’t go any further. I broke down and hit a wall. I was lost, and it felt devastating.

Many many people experience this fog of anxiety and depression. Countless find themselves every day in a state of hopelessness. Their mental health is best illustrated as chaos, and they are just frantically pushing themselves until they finally hit a wall and can go no further. It is a horrible situation to find yourself. The good news, though, is there is a way to make things better.

When you are traveling through a literal fog, and it becomes too dangerous to go any further, you have to stop. You need to wait for the fog to lift so that you can see your path and be on your way. Deciding to stop can be tough, especially when you’re bent on reaching your destination quickly. Hopefully, you are calmly able to assess the situation and stop; you know it’s safer than pushing on. But if you are past that moment of thinking clearly or feel it’s your responsibility to push on, it could take an accident or a close call to make that decision. When traveling through a mental fog, having a breakdown is your mind’s way of making the decision to stop for you. It’s like having an automatic emergency brake that kicks in when you mentally and physically can’t go any further. When that happens, you should get the message and stop, don’t move any further until the fog has lifted.

It is essential to stop. Take an extended break and reset. The fog will lift, but it could take some time. It should take some time because for a mental fog to lift, it requires healing. You do not want to rush healing, but there are things that you can do to aid it.

The first thing you should do is get help. Talk to your family, friends you trust, your doctor, and I highly recommend a therapist (your doctor will too). Honestly, I feel very strongly that going to a therapist is crucial. To me, there is a benefit to talking it out with someone who has no or limited preconceptions of who you are. No judgment, just help. A therapist’s goal is to get you to a place of balance. Set you on the right track to not only get through your current situation but to also teach you how to better manage your life going forward; how to identify and address the signs before the fog of stress and anxiety consume you again. With that help, the fog will begin breaking down.

The second thing you can do is get rest. Get a lot of rest. You need it. Most likely, as your stress and anxiety had built up, you didn’t sleep well at all. After breaking down, you realize how exhausted you are. For me, I was spent. It wasn’t a conscious decision to sleep, I just slept and slept. Sleep will become mandatory; your body and mind will demand it. Give in and get some much-needed rest. A few days of catching up on sleep will do wonders to help lift the fog. You will feel more in the moment, things will start getting clearer.

As things finally start feeling more manageable, you might think you are good-to-go, ready to take on anything. I can guarantee you’re not ready if you haven’t prepared yourself to manage your stress and anxiety going forward. The fog might have lifted enough for you to begin moving again, but if you are not ready for any difficulties ahead, the fog will drop, and you will find yourself stuck again, and possibly in worse shape than before.

The last step I’m going to focus on that can help aid in lifting the fog is to maintain clarity. Do your best to get a clear understanding of what you want but also what is expected of you. Have clear communication. Continue to rely on your family, your friends, and for as long as you need to your therapist. Stay on the same page with your boss and coworkers. Please don’t hold it in. Annoy people if you have to and get it out. Clear your head, breathe and exercise, track your progress, take breaks, and vacations. Organize it all but not to the point you become overwhelmed, that will defeat the purpose. Pace yourself and just do whatever you need to do to maintain clarity.

One last takeaway that I feel is extremely important is to not minimize your feelings, don’t compare yourself to others. If you feel like what you are going through is nothing compared to what others are going through, you might be inclined to deal with it. Please don’t do that. We are all different, and if you are experiencing things that concern you, that is more than enough reason to do something about it. Help yourself by getting help. Talk to your family, friends you trust, and by all means, do not hesitate to seek advice from your doctor or a specialist.

When you find yourself in a haze, it is a terrifying place to be. It’s more unnerving because the fog exists within. Even after the fog has lifted, it might still follow you everywhere and feel impossible to escape. Honestly, it probably is impossible to completely escape. You may never really escape it, but that’s ok. You just need to stay ahead of it. Depression and anxiety may leave you feeling hopeless, but I can promise you that is not the case. With help, you can stay ahead of the fog, and as long as the fog remains behind you, the path is clear.

Resources

Below are a few links that I have found incredibly helpful. A special thank you goes to the friends and colleagues that forwarded me some of these resources. I hope my post will offer the same positive effect these links helped provide to me.

  • Cameron Moll - Performant Mental Health, The Series - Cameron and friends have put together a fantastic amount of content that addresses mental health identification and management. I highly recommend checking it out. Like me, Cameron is not a health professional and doesn’t claim to be, but he has definitely done his research and has done a great job confirming and noting his sources.
  • Kevin Love - Everyone Is Going Through Something - I love everything about this honest article from Kevin Love. He does a great job at self-reflection and explaining how mental health can be a struggle for anyone, no matter their social status,
  • Breathing exercises - 4-7-8 technique - Honestly, something so simple as this can make a huge difference. If you feel it is not helping, don’t stop because, in a short time, it will. Also, you do not need to be overwhelmed to benefit from breathing exercises like this. Try them when you might typically feel stressed, even if you don’t feel overly stressed. Make sure to pace yourself, though, and only do a few to start. If you feel light-headed, stop, and scale back your repetitions. If you have any conditions that could be negatively affected by any breathing exercise, make sure to consult your doctor first.
  • Calm Clinic (no affiliation) - 10 Ways to Stop and Calm Anxiety Quickly - A few great tips to keep in mind when anxiety catches you off guard, but please do not consider it a replacement for getting needed help. The thing I like about articles like these is not that they offer anything new but instead provide reinforcement of things that work. There are key things that have been clinically identified to help manage anxiety, stress, and depression. I love this comment from their closing boilerplate “When your anxiety is interfering with daily living it is a problem. Learning to recognize your symptoms, as well as your triggers, and working to manage them is a good first step.”

I will add more links to this list as I come across anything I find useful. Please feel free to reach out and share with me anything you have found helpful as well!

This article "Clearing the Fog" was also published on Medium.

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