A Guided Meditation for Panic and Anxiety Disorders with Hypochondria

Meditation is often touted as a great solution for alleviating anxiety and stress. And it can be, but for those of us who have anxiety disorders, meditation and stillness runs counter-intuitive to our body’s natural desire to run and distract ourselves whenever we’re alone with our thoughts. I wanted to share something that has really helped me be able to use meditation and mindfulness as a tool for relaxation rather than a stimulus for panic.

One of the common threads throughout most meditative practices is the breath. We are to slow down our breathing and concentrate deeply on the in and out cycle. I don’t know about any of you, but as someone who struggles with some hypochondria and health anxiety in general, the last thing I want to do is pay attention to my breathing or heart beat. The hyper focusing on particular sensations in the body can immediately send me into panic mode.

My solution? To imagine breathing not as “breathing” but as air filling up an external object that has nothing to do with keeping you alive. I have found that a balloon is a great object that is easy to visualize. It can be relaxing in itself by evoking a playful memory of childhood. Everyone can remember the fun and wonder of seeing a balloon being filled up by helium. Probably best to think of it as air so you don’t visualize yourself breathing in helium and start imagining you’ve been poisoned, are light-headed, dizzy, and talking in a squeaky voice…Yep, our anxious thoughts can be that messed up. Here are the steps I take:

  1. Start in a comfortable position.
  2. Place your hand or hands on your belly close to your diaphragm.
  3. Begin visualizing your belly as a balloon…flat and void of air at the end of your breath out and being filled up with air and rounded as your stomach expands with each breath.
  4. It helps me to actually picture a helium tank in front of me and sliding an empty balloon on the nozzle and seeing the balloon get bigger as my lungs fill with air.
  5. Once I’ve filled my “balloon”, I pull it off the nozzle and see myself pinch the end of the balloon to make sure no air escapes and hold it there for a second or two (pausing my breath at the same time).
  6. Then, I start to slowly let air out of the balloon (and lungs) with my fingers still pinching slightly so all the air doesn’t come out at once. I even try to hear the sound of a deflating balloon as I’m breathing out to be completely in the moment.
  7. Once my balloon becomes completely empty I spend a second putting the balloon back on the nozzle of the tank (pausing my breath) and repeat the process.

Hopefully, this helps some people that struggle with the breathing portion of meditation or have been avoiding it because it feels like confronting fear rather than a relaxing activity. Your breath is important, but this exercise allows you to breathe correctly but still think about an external object to keep health anxiety at bay.

-Justin Farley

Hello, everyone! I have recently published my first chapbook of Christian poems titled “A Voice in the Wilderness – A Chapbook of Poems about God”. This has been developed and polished over the past six months or so. I am happy with the final product and hope you find encouragement in the poems but also a validation that the spiritual life is not all sunshine and rainbows. We all struggle. We all have periods of questions and/or doubt. But it is the yearning that keeps us coming back for more and allows us to experience joy.
You can purchase either on Amazon or on my own bookstore (it is cheaper and has free shipping on my store) and is available on the Kindle and in paperback.
Amazon: Kindle Paperback
Inkspiration Books (my bookstore): Paperback

Thank you for your support!

The Road to Recovery – A Poem by Justin Farley

The Road to Recovery

I tried walking away from madness,
seeking peace.
But found I was bound and a captive,
unable to retreat.
Astonished, I looked down at shackles
clasped around my hands and feet.
I have hollered until I was hoarse;
solitude is the only company I keep.
What is left now other than to shrink
within my cell and accept defeat?
But wait...what if this freedom I seek
lies juxtaposed to relief?
Maybe I need to start asking why
these feelings run so deep.
Yes, the road to recovery
begins with acceptance
and ends with peace.

Justin Farley

Losing Myself Poem About Mental Illness and Recovery

Losing Myself

I’m losing myself in pieces –
every year fragments of my soul
feel swept away by time.

My identity constantly decreases,
and I’m beginning to feel like a stranger
within the confines of my own mind.

Yes, I’m losing myself in pieces –
the jigsaw puzzle’s lovely image
has jumbled into an abstract mess.

But my search for meaning never ceases.
I continue holding the lantern,
calling out to myself in the darkness.

I’m searching for the lost pieces –
putting myself back together
one discovery at a time.

With faith, hope increases,
and despite being far from perfect,
I’m able to begin recovery’s climb.

-Poem Written by Justin Farley

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How Anxiety Distracts Us From God

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 The Noticer

Let me be a noticer of things in your world
instead of a dweller of my inner thoughts,
worries, and selfish longings
that only keep me distracted from you.

For when I uproot myself out of the present moment
and plant my focus on myself,
I rob myself of the joy
of witnessing your glory and beauty
all around me.

I have always been a highly observant person, picking out minor details that others often miss. On my morning walk in the woods today I noticed an old, wooden beam with rusted barbwire wrapped around the edges that had clearly once been a fence post. The problem was that I’d walked this path dozens of times before. Worse, it only stood a few inches off the trail.

What may seem an unimportant observation worried me. I should have noticed this a long time ago. But then again, maybe I’m not quite as observant as I once was…not since anxiety and worry have become a constant companion.

I sat there looking at that fence post, noticing for the first time the rotting wood and the crumbling decay of age. In my perifocal view I then noticed a bee hovering around a flower and insects crawling along the earth. I was struck with the realization that I have formed a habit of being so stuck inside my head observing my anxieties and worries that I have lost an awareness of the world around me.

I’ve decided I’m still a highly observant person; I’ve just been preoccupied with the wrong details. Anxiety and worry cause us to retreat inward, focusing on only our thoughts and feelings, preparing for the “what ifs” of the future. In the process they rob us of the joy and experience of life in the present moment.

God dwells in the here and now. God speaks in the present. God walks with us in this moment. When we try to place ourselves in the future, we make no room for God. For the future is determined by His will, not ours. And that is what anxiety and fear inspire us to do, don’t they? To just sprint past God and try to prepare, plan, and control what happens next. We lack faith in God’s providence, so we seek out our own providence. We are finite creatures who are not built to withstand that kind of responsibility. When we put ourselves in control of managing our future, we collapse under the weight of worry.

Even more importantly, when we are constantly distracted by our worries and removed from the here and now, we miss out on the wonderful experience of witnessing God’s glory and beauty all around us.  The beauty of a sunset, the feeling of the wind against your skin, the magic of the leaves changing colors, the love in another’s eyes, the wisdom God passes on in seemingly unimportant things.

It’s a hard fight to pull yourself out of your own head and leave all the worrying behind. It’s maybe an even harder fight to trust in God. But there are opportunities for redemption all around us, yet we have to be attentive to the present moment to recognize them. If we remain focused on the incessant cycle of self-centered thoughts, we deny ourselves the gift of seeing God’s divine presence right here, right now.

-Post and Poem Written by Justin Farley

Internal Fire – A Poem

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Smoke fills the lungs.
Warning signals run in desperation to alert the mind
in a race that’s become all too familiar.
Flames engulf my entrails
like dry twigs thrown on a campfire on an August night.
In frantic panic, eyes search for aid,
but people pass by as if nothing were amiss.
Surely someone must feel the heat…
Can’t anyone see the fire that burns bright in these eyes?
Doesn’t anyone know the smell of the human spirit
cooking in the oven of fear or hear it’s cry,
wailing when touched by the torch
like a colonial witch burned at the stake?

My mind is already alight,
pulsing in agony,
raging like a wounded animal hobbling through the forest,
flapping my wings like a madman trying to put out invisible flames.
I wait out the blaze until every drop of fuel
has been burnt up within me.
My mind is now only simmering instead of boiling.
My brain’s fire has had it’s excess oxygen removed and dwindles.
But the coals of Hell have taken their toll.
I have been branded,
internally marked as different from society –
part man, part beast,
forced to carry these hideous scars,
these burns that have been seared upon my soul,
feeling like a traveling circus on display for all to see.

The internal fire is felt,
but remains unseen.
Daily situations necessary for living in modern society
are tiny sparks that land upon the mind’s kindling,
never knowing when flames will roar up
and engulf my essence once again,
always burning with too much heat,
and I never have enough water.

-Poem Written by Justin Farley

Deep Poem About Depression and Feeling Emptiness

Deep Poem About Depression and Feeling Empty, Nothing, and Alone

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“The Nothing”

Desire eludes me like an admirable foe
in a game of hide-and-seek.
I know it’s somewhere close,
but always feels out of reach.

I call out and question this vast nothingness
that often settles in my soul,
but its mute tongue remains silent and never speaks.

I wander through the trees,
searching the ground for the inspirational feelings
that I lost somewhere along the way.
I track their footprints across past progress,
but lately find nothing to push me through the day.

Depression’s misunderstood bane is not sadness,
on display for all with sobs and sudden tears,
but the emptiness that keeps your heart hidden from yourself –
the absence of feeling when excitement speaks in your ears.

To stare at beauty and recognize it with the mind alone
breaks the gates between life and death.
The numbness tugs you towards the boundary
until you feel like a ghost, with no part of yourself left.

Desire, motivation, and inspiration –
they all snub me and leave me slumped in this chair
feeling half-dead and without the energy to get up into life.
Depression begins as a teardrop,
but ends as a restless phantom sucking at what’s left of your soul
in a seemingly endless cold, dark night.

– Poem Written by Justin Farley

Beyond the Poetry

For a great deal of my life I never thought I was depressed because I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t cry, wasn’t suicidal, or have suicidal thoughts. But I failed to see that I often didn’t feel happy, motivated, inspired, ambitious, or love either. Depression has become more accepted and recognized by people, but I believe that the general public accepts or only recognizes one side of depression – the side they can relate to.

Everyone has felt sad, lonely, “depressed”, or grief at some point. They can relate to depression in that way. Few people have felt emptiness or nothing at all for an extended period of time. At least when you feel sorrow, you feel something. A bad something is often better than nothing. Nothing feels not human. Nothing claws at the thing that makes you “you”, until you can’t find it anymore.

When someone is visibly crying and obviously distressed, it’s easy to get sympathy or at least provide real evidence why you can’t do something. Emptiness, however, can’t be seen. You still look the same. It doesn’t appear anything is wrong with you, but inside of you there is something cripplingly wrong.

How do you explain depression when you don’t really even know how to describe it? You may be labeled lazy by people who can’t understand, but you can feel lazy. Nothing is nothing. No desire. No motivation. No ambition. No feeling to do anything. Because feelings and emotions are one of the key elements that define us as humans, it’s too abstract for people that have never been clinically depressed to understand. It’s hard enough for us that deal with it to understand…

Sometimes you must act regardless of how you feel. I understand that. But behind acting for something you don’t want to do is feeling for something you do what. You may not want to clean the kitchen, but you do it anyways not because you have to, but because you desire a clean house. You may hate the temporary job you have, but you do it because you desire to work your way up in the company or because you desire money. And that’s why depression is hard to explain and hard to comprehend by others.

When you’re depressed, often there is NO desire. You don’t want to clean the kitchen and you don’t desire a clean house, even when you want to desire a clean house. You hate the temporary job and have no desire to show up, to make money, or the ambition to move up in a company, even though you want those desires. Humans do just about everything because of some desire, whether it’s directly or indirectly connected. The mundane work gets done because you have a greater desire for something else that requires it to be completed. People that are depressed often have no desire to do anything.

Being depressed is like trying to be in a relationship with someone that you don’t like, love, and find very unattractive. You try to will yourself to love them. You try over and over, but no matter what you do, you can’t force yourself to suddenly be attracted them them and love them. Sooner or later you hit a brick wall and give up because it’s draining you inside and nothing is changing despite all your attempts. Depression is like that, except life is your relationship and you want nothing to do with it, despite how much you want it to change. It makes you feel something other than being human and utterly alone.

I didn’t write this poem on depression to produce feelings of hopelessness or sadness. I think it’s important for those who suffer from mental illness to see other people’s struggles, so that they know that they are not alone. Mental illness isn’t fun and sometimes “trying to stay positive” is exhausting and self-defeating. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a core part of getting better. But some days you just need to know that there is someone out there that is like you. That you’re not the only of your kind and can still relate to someone of the human race.

You may not ever be able to express what depression feels like or get others to understand. That’s not your fault or theirs. It’s just not possible because unless you’ve felt it, you can’t comprehend it. But you’re not alone, and there are thousands of people feeling just like you. That doesn’t change the fact that you’re depressed, but it does give you comfort knowing that you’re not the only one dealing with it. Hope only ceases when we decide we’re going to quit looking for it. Keep looking. Keep searching for a way out of your cold, dark night and back into the warmth of life.

 

Poem About Bipolar Disorder Manic Depression – Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster – A Poem About Bipolar Disorder / Manic Depression

 

No waiting lines.
No ticket fees.
I was born strapped in your seat.

You took me up.
You took me down.
No choice in where I was bound.

But you soared me too high.
You crashed me too low.
I fried in Hell’s fiery furnace, writhed in winter’s snow.

A thrilling ride
for a moment’s time,
but now no way to stop this racing mind.

For a moment’s time
A slow, quiet rest,
but now bleak, cold, and dead inside my chest.

No way to curb the madness.
No way to calm the fear.
No way to halt this ride and get out of here.

Corkscrews and loops.
Falls and climbs.
I spend my life riding the moods of my mind.

-Poem Written by Justin Farley

About the Poem

Anyone who has dealt with bipolar disorder knows what it’s like to feel like your life is a constant roller coaster. You click up the tracks and reach the summit, feeling on top of the world. But soon come crashing down, picking up speed and racing through tunnels, curves, and loops. It may be exciting to feel out of control for a few minutes on a ride, but when it becomes the way you describe your life, enjoyment isn’t one of the words that comes to mind.

It’s exhausting living with bipolar, not knowing which “you” is going to wake up the next day. Are you going to be racing with energy, crazy in an episode of mania? Or are you going to wake without enough energy to even get out of bed and struggle to make it through the day filled with depression? Mental illness, and specifically bipolar disorder, can make you feel like your whole life is one long roller coaster ride you can’t get off of.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like my poem “The Clouds of Mourning”

Living With Fear – A Poem About Anxiety Disorder and Mental Illness

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Living With Fear – A Poem About Anxiety and Mental Illness

Close your eyes.
Keep yourself blind
To the hideous beast
That hides beneath this veil of security.

Pretend you can’t see me
For who I am –
A scared, frightened, shell of a man
Raging in the solitude of fear’s prison.

I can’t even stand the vision
That stares back at me in the mirror,
So how could I expect you to accept me?
How could I expect you not to judge me?

I only wish that for one day you could see
What it feels like to crawl within my skin,
What it feels like to loose it all –
Everything you’ve ever loved, ever dreamed to your own mind.

Finding myself racing around trying to make up lost time –
The minutes, hours, days cowered in the corner,
Just wishing the world would fade away
And this anxiety would leave me in peace.

The attacks may subside, but the restlessness doesn’t cease,
Always waiting to jump me unexpectedly
Like a mugger in a dark, deserted street,
Leaving me helpless and penniless, staring death in the face.

How do I mingle and mix with the human race
When I know my revelations will label me an outcast and crazy fool?
How do I look confidently into another’s eyes
When inside my soul shrieks and my heart beats through my chest?

Where can my soul find rest
In a world of strangers
Who would surely laugh and jest
At the man beneath the mask?

How do I keep from being labeled an outcast
And not notice the eyes jeering at me like I’m a psychotic loon,
Pretending to understand, but keeping their distance,
With no desire to get close enough to help me clean up my mess?

How do I bear being labeled lazy when I’m doing my best
Just to make it through the day, make it out the door,
To achieve some level of normalcy,
And not get crushed beneath the weight of my fears?

Will they ever understand when my mind rears
Its ugly head and leaves me panicking,
Breathing in short gasps pleading,
“Can we please leave now?”

Will they ever understand how
It feels to be locked in a prison of your own being,
Pacing the hours away, wishing somehow
You could find a way to escape invisible bars?

Will they ever not be horrified at the scars
That cover the face of my soul?
Can they ever comfort me at my worst
And not run from the beast before their eyes?

So do you blame me from hiding this storm inside?
Do you know the shame I sleep with,
Always feeling like a monster –
A freak drowning in a sea of normalcy?

But this is me.
And no amount of hiding can change who I am.
I am a scared, frightened, shell of a man
Terrified of the world finding out how weak I am.

-Poem Written by Justin Farley


*Painting “The Scream” by Edvard Munch

 

The Woman in the Mirror

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The Woman in the Mirror

You are a seductive temptress
that tempts with the ticks of time.
In control of the clocks hands,
only needing to rewind to the moments we left behind.

You still lurk in the shadows –
a creature stalking in the dead of night.
But potential follows wherever your heart goes,
needing only to let go of the darkness and step into the light.

My heart goes out to you in your struggle,
to the battle that rages in your mind.
Pick up your feet each time you stumble
and never settle for the chains of fear that bind.

Though our paths have diverged,
I still desire to see yours lead to a happy ending.
I still long to see the woman emerge
from your battle – the beautiful soul I’ve seen since the beginning.

May your head be held high.
May your feet walk into the flames of fear.
May your spirit learn to fly.
And may you love the woman in the mirror.

-Poem Written by Justin Farley


 

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The Clouds of Mourning – A Poem About Depression and Pain

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As we go through life, there are inevitable seasons where it seems the skies are always cloudy, always raining, and the forecast will never change. Anyone that has ever dealt with depression (or any mental illness for that matter) knows that it is like a ghost that haunts you no matter where you go or how hard you try to hide from it. Fight all you want, but you can never defeat the forces of darkness with strength alone. In these times of darkness and pain, how do we keep moving forward? How do we resist the temptation to give up and let the pain of life suck everything from our soul?

Typically, telling yourself to “cheer up”, “suck it up”, “pick yourself up”, or having someone else tell you to stop feeling sorry for yourself only makes matters worse, and I believe does a disservice to our heart. Deep depression is not an easy thing to fix, and the reality is that sometimes there are circumstances in our lives where the only appropriate response is to mourn and cry. And sometimes we need that time to just embrace the issue and recognize that it is ok to feel pain. But how do we not drown in that pain?

I believe the only way we can move forward is by grasping hope and refusing to let go. It might not get better today, it might not be tomorrow, but as long as there is hope that things will get better, the ghosts of depression are unable to penetrate our locked doors and totally possess us.

The Clouds of Mourning – A Poem About Depression and Pain

The clouds of mourning
Hang and hover over me
Like ghosts – translucent,
Yet allowing only darkness to pass through.
Their pale gray sheets flap and flutter
In the breezes of life,
Dimming and drowning out
All traces of light.
Their wails send nails
Falling from the sky,
Raining down and driving like hammers;
Pounding their melancholic clamors into my heart.

My palette is stained,
Soaked in ashen gray paint.
Non-washable, permanent and persistent;
Resistant to the colors I attempt to cover with my brush.
The clouds of mourning
Flood my skies like ghastly Dementors,
Following me through the hours
And sucking at my soul one minute at a time.

Sweet angels,
Have you lost the fight to the terrors?
Have your hallowed halos burnt out like smoking embers
And lost their luster and glow?
Where are you hiding
In this dark and stormy night?
Where are your shields and swords,
Why are you overwhelmed by the demons of darkness,
Why do you refuse to fight?

What weapons do I pick up
To fend off forces invisible and invincible?
Is there an amulet I can hang over my heart to keep out
The ghouls that pass uninhibited through locked doors?
The icy rain covers my window pane
In sheets of tears running down in streams of solitude.
Winter’s wrath bars my path
And leaves me shivering in the cold wondering what to do.
The clouds of mourning
Hang and hover over me
Like ghosts – translucent,
But hope shall be my exorcism.

-Poem Written by Justin Farley


 

photo credit: Titanic via photopin (license)