A Helpful Quote

Courtesy of my amazing mother, who left this in my inbox this morning, here is a quote for the day. This is one of the most eloquent, concise, and useful arguments for both the power of the written word and the therapeutic nature of the writing process that I have encountered:

“If you can take whatever big, scary, unhealthy thoughts are bouncing around in your head and fit them on a single loose-leaf paper, all of a sudden it’s not so big or scary anymore. You’ve literally removed this thing from your head entirely and put it onto the page. Now, this problem and anxiety you have isn’t gone or forgettable, but it is at least approachable. By wrapping your anxiety in poetry, you’ve attached words to it and given it a body. From there, you can take that piece of paper that is your unhealthy thoughts, and crumple it up, burn it, fold it into a paper airplane… or maybe you can read it to a room full of strangers and make real human connections with people who appreciate you for the battles you fight.”

— Bill Moran

This is my goal at the moment, both in my writing for The Panic Button, and in all my daily endeavors: to give my thoughts to a room full of strangers, thereby to find the connections, for others and for myself, that otherwise might never be made.

Today, while out working in the Starbucks at Barnes & Noble, I was able to begin this process of sharing in a totally wonderful and unexpected way. I was sitting at one of the small, round, orange-umber tables, ordering a book off of Amazon, when an older woman, who had apparently just arrived at the table just behind mine, stated derisively, “Ha! There is no upside to stress.”

I looked up from the screen of my laptop. I knew instantly that she was talking to me; the book in my Amazon shopping cart was Kelly McGonigal’s excellent volume, “”The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at it”. Apparently, she had read the title off my computer screen. She immediately apologized for the intrusion, but I was thrilled.

“Actually”, I replied confidently, “There can be an upside to stress.”

She seemed skeptical, so I told her that not only was I ordering the book for my aunt, I was in the process of reading it myself, as well, and had already looked up some of the studies cited in the text. It was very well-researched, I said. She asked to see the book, which I happened to have in my bag, and looked over it as I spoke. She seemed interested, but still unconvinced. In one small moment, our momentary interaction became– for me, at least– a sort of personal crusade. I decided, without much forethought, to go all-out.

“I’m actually very interested in stress,” I said. “I read and write about it a lot, because I have an anxiety disorder, so stress is actually a very relevant concept in my life.”

“You write about it?” she asked, genuinely intrigued this time.

I explained that yes, I have a blog, and told her about it and (rather sheepishly– I’m unused to shameless self-promotion) where I could be found online. She told me that she has a family member with an anxiety disorder, and we chatted for a moment. At her urging, I returned to my work, and thought the matter was over. Her interest was nice, I thought, but she probably wouldn’t remember the name of my website, or perhaps even having a conversation with me. After awhile, I got hungry, and started packing my things to leave.

I heard her voice behind me again.

“You don’t think I ‘m going to let you leave without writing down the name of your website, do you?” She handed me a small square of paper, the subscription slip from a magazine she had open in front of her. I gave her the website, the Facebook page, and my name as well, and we parted ways.

I am so happy that this small but significant interaction took place. There is nothing like the realization that, through simple openness and honest exchange of information, we can potentially change the lives of people we don’t even know for the better. It’s not altruism: this is the best form of therapy I have found.

Have interactions with strangers changed your life for the better? How? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


2 thoughts on “A Helpful Quote

  1. In answer to the question “Have strangers changed my life for the better?” I’d say the answer is yes. Today for example, I noticed that despite my best intentions to stay positive for 12 hours and keep redirecting my head away from its customary catastrophizing, I noticed that I was becoming anxious over a family member not having returned my call. This family member has had a very recent health crisis so there was legitimate reason to be somewhat concerned, but not to be imagining them dead already, with all the associated horrible images and stress reactions in my poor overworked muscles. So, using the skills I have, but which are so hard to use at times, I dragged by brain (kicking and screaming) back to the present, to the sunshine, to my breathing and to a clearer place where I had a fighting chance of being in the moment; not on a runaway train of tragic thoughts. My family member shortly returned my call, and of course he was fine. Still feeling a little unnerved, off I went to my hair cut appointment. There at the hair salon, a young mother was with her baby. I watched as various staff members handed the baby back and forth among themselves, helping this mother out, and doing all the usual ooing and ahhhing at this sweet little child, a chunky cheeked, blue eyed bundle of sweet smiles, in a blue and white onesy with a little orange fox on it. This mother did not know me – we were strangers to each other, but she readily chatted with me about little things, tidbits of information about “Maddox” – how he likes to be held, how his Dad is feeling overwhelmed with life with two kids, how “onesies” with buttons are not nearly as good as “onesies” with zippers. I was much less in my head now and so much more in the moment, having gotten swept up in the simple tenderness of looking into a baby’s face. I also thought.”Wow, its a tough world we live in, and there are plenty of reasons to be scared all the time, but look at this mother, trusting enough in life and goodness to bring this vulnerable being into the world and believe it will grow up in safety and love.” I told myself that I need to feel more of that kind of trust in life. Trust in all the goodness that is out there, trust in the power of our interconnectedness. Trust that we do not have to be alone with our fears – that someone, maybe a stranger, maybe a baby, maybe your hair stylist, your best friend, your massage therapist or their dog, or a woman in a bookstore has kindness to give you rather than judgment, and all you have to do is notice it, take it in, give a small something back, and feel your spirits lift.
    With gratitude,


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