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New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Thursday, November 17, 2016
As the creator of the Organized Artist Company, bestselling author Sam Bennett’s mission in life is clear: to assist people in getting unstuck by helping them focus and move forward on their goals.

That is also the intention of her new book, Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers, and Recovering Perfectionists, which is based on the premise that small shifts in the right direction can yield big results in the realization of our creative dreams. We hope you’ll enjoy this short excerpt from the book.  

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In addition to figuring out what well-being means for you, it’s important to learn what looks like “not-well-being” for you. How do you know when you are off track? What are your symptoms?

For me, not-well-being shows up as racing thoughts, also known as anxiety. (It’s a little annoying that in the English language we use words like anxiety and depression to describe both a mood and a medical condition. So, just to be clear, I manage both the moods and the medical conditions of anxiety and depression.) And when my anxiety really kicks in — and it rarely does anymore, but when it does, it’s a hurricane — I literally wring my hands. It’s like I’m some eighteenth-century heroine in search of a fainting couch.

I used to try to make myself stop, but now I don’t, because it’s such an important signal to me. If I’m wringing my hands, I can notice that and think, “Oh, wow. I am super off-kilter. Something’s really wrong. This is a really strong signal that I am not in my right mind.” And it’s a signal to the people who love me. My sister knows and Luke knows that if they see me wringing my hands, they should say, “Okay, she’s a goner. Let’s get her some water. Let’s get her out of this situation.”

Sometimes a symptom of not-well-being is not a physical behavior but rather a thought pattern. When depression creeps in, my first symptom is not being able to feel joy. So, for example, I might be out with friends, and I’ll think to myself, “I can tell this is supposed to be fun, because I see other people laughing and smiling. I wonder why I am not experiencing the feeling of fun.” That sensation is known as anhedonia: the inability to take pleasure in anything.

Since we’re on what I feel to be an underdiscussed subject, let me also name another symptom of a depressive episode, which is the certainty that the feeling is permanent. The depressed mind thinks, “Life is miserable, and I’m always going to be unhappy. I’ve always been unhappy, and I will always be unhappy. I can’t even call to mind any time of happiness. Any happy memories feel false to me. I maybe thought I was happy, but I wasn’t. Not really. And I can’t imagine being happy in the future.”

One of the horrible tricks that depression plays on you is to make you believe that it will never go away. Because when you’re in it, you think, “This is never going to change. There is no hope for me.” It’s not so much that the pain is so bad as the conviction that it will never end. That’s why depression can be a fatal disease.

Most of us have conditions that need to be managed: a tendency to overwork, to overdrink, to worry too much. Maybe you go on shopping sprees or get into a cycle of binging and purging. Maybe you hyperventilate or get vertigo or migraines. Maybe your back hurts. (Almost certainly your back hurts. Data from the National Institutes of Health indicate that eight out of ten people suffer back pain at some point in their lives — see “Back Pain,” MedlinePlus, National Institutes of Health, Maybe you don’t feel anxiety because your back is feeling it for you.)

Stay alert to the thoughts, behaviors, and aches and pains that let you know when you’re off-kilter, and try to preprogram your response as you would if you were having a kind of allergic reaction. “Oh. There’s my sign that I can’t tolerate XYZ. I’m noticing that something is happening, my body is reacting, and I need to treat this reaction. I need to treat this episode.”

Whatever your not-well-being symptom is, please don’t criticize yourself for it. You’ve been doing the best you can. And now that you’re going to be taking better care of yourself, perhaps that condition will lessen or even disappear.

But I want to be real here: life is a long road. My depression does occasionally come back, and when it does, I am reminded how my one-eyed therapist (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried: I had a one-eyed therapist) told me, “When you have depression, you live in a house built on a cliff.” At the time I got all sarcastic and said, “Well, thanks. That’s inspiring.” And she replied, “No. It’s a neutral fact. Depression might always be with you. That yawning chasm might always be there, and it might always be a little dangerous for you.” Now, years later, I find that her image reminds me to not get complacent.

These days, when depression does strike, I try to find the gift in it. I consider it an invitation to slow down. Since depression causes me to ruminate, I’ll take the opportunity to examine my business, both its trajectory and its systems. After all, I’m in a pondering mood, so often I’ll notice something that I wouldn’t have been able to see if I were moving at my usual breakneck pace. I write more poetry. I make mordant jokes. I sleep more. I reread old books. And every day I push and poke at it a bit to see if I can get it to lift, even for a few hours. Because it has pass.

But the best medicine is prevention. If you can acquaint yourself with your own early warning signs, you may be able to head off those destabilizing moments and lessen their impact on your day.

Little Changes Action Step: 

Write down three behaviors or thought patterns that are symptoms of your not-well-being and share the list with someone you trust.

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Sam Bennett is the author of Start Right Where You Are and Get It Done

She created the Organized Artist Company to help creative people get unstuck and achieve their goals. She is a writer, actor, teacher, and creativity/productivity specialist who has counseled thousands of artists and entrepreneurs on their way to success. 

Visit her online  

Excerpted from Start Right Where You Are. Copyright © 2016 by Sam Bennett.


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