Therapy Log #2

It’s been a little while since I posted the first Therapy Log. More than a month, actually. I’m sorry about this. Things were going well at first, then they weren’t. And when they weren’t I didn’t want to talk about it—because I was ashamed. I was so ashamed! I should have been doing better! Therapy costs so much money! So I ate Ding-Dongs, watched TV on the Internet, and stayed away. I’m not proud of it, but there you go. Don’t judge me.

In this second installment, I explain why I wasn’t doing better, in my estimation, as well as a new anxiety-battling technique that my shrink taught me. He calls this technique “Reductio ad Absurdum,” and he believes it suits my brand of anxiety rather well. I still haven’t decided whether to take this as an insult or a compliment. It’s probably a bit of both.

15 Responses to Therapy Log #2

  1. Hi Daniel. I read your book Muses, Madmen and Prophets, a serious study of people who hear voices, which is very much in line with my own research into poets who experience dissociative voices, fueling their creativity. I loved your Sunday review piece on Jews and anxiety and found your blog. Again, a connection, as I have experienced anxiety as well. I’m looking forward to reading your memoir which sounds great. I have been reading and thinking a lot about schizophrenia, dissociation, depression, and autism, because of the special talents that sometimes accompany them, but never anxiety. I’d say the comedic mind definitely is an asset and writing ability, judging by yours, which is over-the-top fine.

  2. Anne Marie says:

    Ha, ha, your blog on the plethora of techniques for overcoming anxiety reminded me of a funny audiobook that you would get a kick out of: Therapy and How to Avoid it, by the brilliant British comedians Robert Llewellyn and Nigel Planer. Their narration hilarious. Personally, I like that BFD technique you mentioned in your last blog. Enjoyed your New York Times article too — anxiety knows no ethnic bounds. Looking forward to reading your book!

  3. R D Kenney says:

    Dear Daniel,
    Your NYT piece provides an enjoyable Sunday read. Lead me to think that Leopold Bloom is the antithesis of Jewish anxiety despite loss of his son, cuckoldry and psychosocial ostracism. He remains fiction’s guiding spirit of the self-assured mensch. No one would allow him near the field with your anxious grumblers except maybe to promote an advert.

  4. Stephanie Margulis says:

    Hi Daniel,

    I am the mother of a 13 yo son who suffers from anxiety, depression and some compulsive behavior. He is in therapy and I’m always searching for ways to help him come to terms with his outlook on life. I found your NYT article and found it to be amusing and poignant and your website the same. Jewish, having been in therapy for 25+ years I have to smile, remembering what my therapist called “The Cactus Up the Ass Syndrome” and, my fondness for, “Liking to Turn It”. I will relate the “BFD” approach to him, with the recommendation that it is not “BIG FUCKING DEAL!!!” but, “big fuckin deal….” with a dismissive shrug of the shoulders and an internal roll of the eyes. Thanks!

  5. Miriam says:

    Please don’t try this! It sounds like the worst idea ever! I was following this train of thought with you and felt full-on panic approaching by the time I got to my mother’s bathroom. Sure, it’s absurd, but, some part of my brain still says, is it really that unlikely? What are the odds? Is there a one percent chance that this will happen? Five percent? Ten percent? Yeah, it’s probably ten percent…

  6. Tracey says:

    Thank you for your wonderful book, which I read with great interest and finished this morning. I’m impressed with the success you’ve had with cognitive therapy. In my own family, we have been pursuing different modes of therapy (neurofeedback) with considerable success since both of my children have suffered problems with anxiety. We just stumbled into this treatment method with no prior knowledge of it. My daughter’s problems were severe enough for her to miss most of the spring of her eighth-grade year of school this past spring. You seem dedicated to the traditional forms of therapy, but I’d love to see you look into this other stuff too and write a new book…

    Books I’ve read so far to help with my daughter’s (and my own resulting) anxiety include these:

    …about neurofeedback treatment for all kinds of brain-related problems

    …about the author’s experiences with all kinds of non-pharmaceutical ways to lesson anxiety

    My daughter is also participating in a horsemanship program that incorporates principles of equine therapy, and this seems, so far, to be the most empowering and hopeful part of her treatment.

    Okay, so it’s my own fantasy that you would look into these therapies and ideas, but I’m excited about them and want to share my excitement with anyone reading this. My own hope is to one day be able to use my mind, through meditation, etc., to calm my brain.

    Best of luck on your continued quest for calm, and thank you for sharing your story. Some of the insights were startlingly helpful to me as I try to puzzle through my own family’s issues.

  7. Debby says:

    Hi Daniel,
    I read your book Monkey Brain and really enjoyed your honesty and applaud your strength of character and willingness to not give up and to continue to seek solutions. It is with this thought in mind that I want to share two things that might be of help to you and your readers:
    1. There is a device called an Emwave 2 and Emwave desktop created by a company called Heartmath in California. The device helps people balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system through biofeedback. They have had a lot of success helping patients with self calming through use of their software and new handheld unit. The staff at the company can help you to learn how to maximize use of the device. Their website is
    2. I am a neurovisual optometrist and have helped pateints with anxiety from an ocular origin. There is a questionnaire on my site that anyone can complete and they will receive a call back from me regarding their score. Any score higher than 15 signifies a possible ocular explanation for their anxiety. The website is The questionnaire is on the opening page of the site where it says,”Take this test to see if you might have Vertical Heterophoria.”. There are “anxiety” stories on the website about the impact the visual correction has had on reducing my patients anxiety.
    I hope that these ideas offer hope and help to you and your readers.

  8. Robert Johnson says:

    Although I enjoy your website, I am puzzled as to why a person who purports to want to combat anxiety would have a website and a blog. You really are an idiot.

  9. Megan says:

    In my own developing thoughts about anxiety, I’ve found that embracing the humor of my catastrophizing and black-and-white thinking has been palliative. When I can articulate — out loud or in writing — the absurd trajectory of my thoughts (wherein the anxiety of choosing which sandal to buy, for instance, leads through various leaps to tragic and permanent foot disorders and/or bankruptcy, while also serving as a convenient metaphor for my overall worthless as a human being. Ergo, I cannot make a choice and I suck, and I should just quit now, forever and ever.) I’m not saying this is always helpful, or even always helpful, but it does take the sting out of the direness of my feelings. It helps, even just a little. And the other positive is that other people find these stories hilarious. I should have been mining my anxiety for comedy gold YEARS ago.

    I just finished reading your book and enjoyed it. I appreciate your bravery in being yourself and sharing that with others. It was useful and helpful. And funny! So thanks — Megan

  10. Julie says:

    I saw you on “CBS This Morning” with Gayle King and heard a familiar echo I battle in my own brain every single day. So I anxiously (no pun intended) looked up your website to see if your experience and treatment is relatable and helpful for me. Rats. Unlike the “dignified” arena of the television interview; blogs and vlogs (as you demonstrate so capably) are free to drop f-bombs and similar vulgarity as an element of common speech. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard; an experience usually avoided by those who suffer from anxiety. Go to your mother’s house (avoid the bathroom), check her library for old “Reader’s Digest” magazines, and expand your vocabulary. You’ll be amazed at the rich collection of non-offensive adjectives the English language has to offer.

    It’s got to stop somewhere. Think about it. What word is your kid going to use to shock you?

    • Daniel Smith says:

      Julie: There is nothing my kid could say that would shock me. As for my vocabulary, it is plenty expansive. (I respectfully invite you to set aside your distaste just for a bit and check out my book, where you would discover this to be true. [You don’t have to buy the thing; go to the library or peruse it online.) My vocabulary is also capacious — capacious enough to include a little bit of vulgarity so long as that vulgarity is in the service of honest emotion. The language isn’t meant to shock or offend, and it isn’t lazy. (Not in written form, at least.) It’s meant to communicate. I write stuff. That’s what I do. I build stuff with words. I’m not going to throw away even the bluntest of tools in my toolbox. All best, Daniel

  11. Julie says:

    I have quit my therapy which I went to for 10 years because it never did help, nor the medication. But recently I have begun a personal program of CBT which is very minimul , but which helps me very much to stop worrisome thoughts. THe first is the Poisoned Parrot page, and the second is BACE weekly activity diary.

  12. Julie says:

    Leave your therapist. He should not be promoting anything that makes you go down the rabbit trail of your worry thoughts by asking you to imagine the worst things that can happen- that sort of thinking is practicing worrying, and will only serve to keep conditioning your mind that it is okay to worry. The whole point is to teach your brain to stop the worry and rumination through retraining it, refocusing it.
    Worrying is done as a way to try to overcome your problems. When you worry, it is because you believe that by worrying you can solve the problem. It is problem solving in overdrive.
    Instead, #1 tell yourself, i dont have to think about that right now. #2 Im ready to take some sort of action or step to make things better. #3Im going to distract myself with some other helpful activity to get my mind off of worrying.
    Why is it important not to worry? Because every time you worry you re-teach your brain to use worrying. You tell the brain that you will allow worrying. Therefore, it comes back several times fold.
    Why else? Because this worry takes up mind energy and mind focus that cuold be used and spent on coping with life and doing positive things for yourself. WOrrying takes up so much mind energy and focus that it actually steals your will to do other things- thus leading to what looks like laziness; except that you arent really lazy. The mind is guzzling up all the gasoline you have to live.
    Check out the ‘Poisoned Parrot’ Page on the website. It says we have all been given a parrot. It is not knowledgeable, not wise, not understanding, not smart, or compassionate. (that last one I added). It is critical and shaming voice. But it talks all day. It is repeating words, but like a parrot it doesnt actually understand what it is saying, it’s like a puppet, and yet it seems alive and seems ‘smart’… At the bottom of the page it says, the more you listen to the parrot the more it will speak, and the less you listen to it, the less it will speak.
    Theres another page somewhere in the site where it defines worry and rumination, the differences between them. Study those definitions very well. And everytime a thought comes in your head that you notice is bothering you, ask: is this fear of the future, my ability to cope which leads to stress and anxiety? Or is this rumination, regret, I should have done this, I shouldnt have done that, and past failures, leading to shame and sadness and depression? Once you can label the thought as either of these, you can then decide to either do something constructive toward your worry or distract your mind by being active.
    In less than 3 weeks I have cleared my mind and gained control and more space. But if you miss 2 days, the problems all run straight back.

    • Julie says:

      It is good to compasisonately remember that you are worrying in order to try to solve your problems. That is the whole ‘lie’ that backs up and supports the worry/rumination factory/cycle. Tell yourself also that the consequences of worrying is that it will make you worry more.
      Once you notice yourself worrying say: Am I doing this to try to solve some sort of problem? If yes, then am I willing to take an action to solve this problem, some small step? and if not, can I do something else helpful? If anything, such as clean or exercise? Then say: Unless I am willing right now to do something towards this problem, Iwill just have to distract myself. But If I feel that this problem could use some thinking time, I will decide upon a time to think about it. In this way, you become in complete control of worry!!

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