The early days of the pandemic were marked by lockdowns, masks, and social distancing. Each imposed restriction further eroded normal socialization, leading many Americans to sink into anxiety and depression.
Jon Seidl, author of the new book “Finding Rest: A Survivor's Guide to Navigating the Valleys of Anxiety, Faith, and Life,” had his own mental health struggles brought on by the rise of COVID-19.
“I'll never forget where I was about that time in March,” says Seidl, who has obsessive compulsive disorder and recalls how his “anxiety just raged.”
Seidl joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss his book and offer Americans some hope in pushing through on their mental health problems.
We also cover these stories:
- President Joe Biden gets his third dose, or “booster,” of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.
- The Department of Homeland Security presents a new rule to revise the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA.
- Homicides rose by about 30% last year, the FBI says.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Doug Blair: Our guest today is Jon Seidl, founder and president of The Veritas Creative, a new digital media consulting and content creation firm, as well as author of the upcoming book “Finding Rest: A Survivor's Guide to Navigating the Valleys of Anxiety, Faith, and Life,” which releases Sept. 28. Jon, thank you so much for joining us.
Jon Seidl: I am so excited to be here with you, Doug, and thank you for having me.
Blair: We're very excited to have you on the show as well. So I wanted to start out a little bit with your story. On your website, you're very open with the fact that you have anxiety issues and OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder]. … Tell our listeners a brief timeline of your story, to finding your diagnosis and then how you've learned to live with your mental health struggles.
Seidl: I think growing up, I always realized there was something a little different about me. I would get stuck on things, if you will, that “normal people wouldn't get stuck on”–like thoughts or ideas or struggles that would just continue to plague me. I think there was this general baseline of where I would feel like, if you've been to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, where you're like on the edge of this cliff. And that feeling of when you're looking down and you're like, “Oh my gosh, this could go bad at any moment.” That was my baseline.
And so I was talking to someone the other day. I said, “I have no idea how I made it through high school and college.” And I went to college in New York City, at The King's College—the mecca, if you will, of rush and hurry and anxiety. And so I got married and the first few years of my marriage were just so difficult, and that's not abnormal. But it just got to a point where the little things that I couldn't get over were really taking a toll on my wife and our marriage.
There was this one episode where we were living in a loft in downtown Dallas and there's this cool, hip coffee shop underneath. And we decided to go for a walk. We were going to walk downtown on a Saturday morning and I said, “All right, babe, if you could please get the coffee and I'm going to run to the restroom. And by the way, remember I hate Splenda. … Yeah, I hate Splenda Please don't put Splenda in my coffee. I think it tastes like dirty sock water.” … And so I returned from the bathroom. I take a sip of my coffee and I almost spit it out. And there's Splenda in it.
It's one of those little things that's just so simple, and I just couldn't get over it. … If you have anxiety or OCD, people listening will understand something small like that just ruining your entire day. And if you love someone who has anxiety and OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder], that will sound very familiar.
So I got to that point and it was either later that day or the next morning, I'm sitting across from my wife, who is just broken. I mean, she's just sobbing and saying, “Listen, I'm in this for the long haul. We did our vows and we are going to stay married, but I need to know if–is this what the rest of my life is going to be like? And if so, Jon, you need to get help. This isn't normal.” …
I was working in the news business at the time, and so there was a lot of things contributing to this overall anxiety, and I just said, “You're right. I got to get help.”
And so I got help. I made a psychiatry appointment and got into the first one I could find. And I go in there and I explain everything that's happened, that's going on. I mean, if we do things out of order, it drives me crazy. I mean, if I send an email to my boss, I read it 50 times.
He goes, “Well, this is a pretty simple one, you have GAD, generalized anxiety disorder with OCD. And OCD is a type of anxiety, it's a subset. And it was one of actually the most freeing days of my life. And there are some people who are like, “I don't understand why, how is that a freeing moment in your life?” And it's like–I'm a big proponent [that] if you read the Bible, you see that naming things gives you power over them. You know what to fight, you know how to battle it.
You see that back in the Genesis story, God gave man the job of naming the animals. And it was this signal that they have dominion, they have dominion over the animals by naming it. And so, in a sense, my dominion over my diagnosis started that day, where I was finally able to name it and know what I was fighting.
Blair: Thank you so much for sharing that story. I think that that's a really important way to look at it, that this diagnosis gave you the power over your illness. So on that note, I sometimes feel as if there's a stigma attached to seeking mental health care in America. Sometimes we don't want to express that we need that type of help. Do you find that that's the case overall? And if it is, why do you think that's the case?
Seidl: It's absolutely the case. And I think we even saw that just this summer with the whole [U.S. Olympic gymnast] Simone Biles thing. It broke my heart, Doug, that Simone's pulling out and saying, “I need to focus on my mental health, here's what's going on” was met with, it became in some circles a partisan issue: The wussification of America. This is people that just want to quit. And I just was like, that's ridiculous.
So that's just a recent example, and I found it in my own life. I think that prevented me for a long time [from] wanting to tell everyone what was going on. When I finally did come out, I wrote this article called “It's Time to Tell the World My Secret.” And I told the world my secret, and that was it. There was some backlash, if you will, from people who just didn't understand why I would go take medication.
I'm a person of faith. “Do you not have enough faith?” But also the reaction that I got from people who had been suffering in silence for a long time was incredible. And so I think, Doug, that we're in a culture and a time where we are seeing people finally be OK with not being OK. We are seeing people say, “Listen, I'm going to tell you this is what's going on with me.” There's actually more freedom and power in doing that.
I think as we do that more, I think you're going to see more of these people, the Simone Bileses of the world, the [pro tennis player] Naomi Osakas, the Dak Prescotts, the quarterback for the [Dallas] Cowboys, that are doing it. I hope we start seeing it more in the political arena. There's this great book that I recommend to people called “A First-Rate Madness” that talks about how some of our best leaders—from JFK to Abraham Lincoln to Winston Churchill—were all people who struggled with mental health. … When you struggle with mental health, you have an outlook on the world that actually is so much better, so much more realistic than [the mindset of] the “normal people,” like the Neville Chamberlains of the world.
So it's actually a gift, and so I've started seeing it as a gift. That doesn't mean it's something I still don't have to fight, but seeing it for its–sometimes–its good qualities.
Blair: I think that nobody's going to argue that it's a bad thing to be more aware of your own mental health and to take that into consideration as you proceed through life. So now that we've gotten to know a bit about your particular journey in this, I want to move on to your book. In the book, you talk a little bit about anxiety and bad mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. Obviously, there were stories after stories after stories of people who were suffering these mental health crises as a result of public health restrictions, or fear of COVID, all of these things that added up to create an environment that was not great for people's mental health. So your book “Finding Rest” is set against the backdrop of these pandemic-related mental health crises. So with that in mind, what inspired you to write that book now? Why now?
Seidl: It's so interesting that I technically actually got the contract for the book in January of 2020. … And so, back then there was a few articles maybe in The Times or whatnot talking about this mysterious Chinese virus that was circulating and everyone's like, “Oh, that's just a great, interesting story.” I guess, not [a] great story, but [an] interesting story about something that's going on way off our shores. But when I started writing it, you couldn't help but bring in a lot of the stuff that has been going on—I would just say, had been going on, but here we are again, where stuff is resurging again.
And I think more so than ever, Doug, I am talking to people from all walks of life. I mean, parents, teachers, pastors, CEOs of companies who are coming to me and saying, “Listen, I never struggled with anxiety and now I'm like a raging anxietyaholic. I don't know what has happened.”
So I try to frame it like this: Back a few years ago, I was taking this big motorcycle trip. I live in Texas now and we were going to drive down to Big Bend National Park. And so me and my brother-in-law—believe it or not, you have to practice to ride your motorcycle that long, I learned. You have to get used to sitting on this motorcycle for hours on end, without a break. And so we started doing that, and I got to the point one weekend where I got off the motorcycle and man, I have my back, the skin on my back was just really irritating me. And my wife, I talked to her about it, she goes, “Oh, you have a heat rash. I mean, it's summer in Texas, you have a heat rash.” Yeah, OK, that makes sense.
The next day I wake up, it is so bad. I'm walking around the house without a shirt on because I can't stand anything to be touching it. And so a couple of days later, my buddy and I were at a church function where we were volunteering to clean up a school before school started. And he can tell that I'm in pain and he goes, “Hey, are you OK?” I said, “Man, my skin, something is going on.” He goes, “Well, let me see it.” So I lift up the back of my shirt and he goes … , “You have shingles.” I'm like “What?” He goes, “Oh yeah, I've had it twice. You have the band across the nerve line in your back. That's shingles, you need to go to the doctor.” And sure enough, I literally go to the walk-in clinic that day [and the doctor] goes: “No, you definitely have shingles.”
So I tell you that because of this: As you may or may not know, shingles is the chicken pox virus that has laid dormant in your system since you've had chicken pox—anyone who's had chicken pox will have the shingles virus inside of them. And it awakens during times of stress or as you get older; as your immune system breaks down, it surfaces. And so that's what, you talk about the backdrop to this book, [for] a lot of people it's like anxiety has been there just like the chicken pox virus. But then as we've encountered these really stressful times … it's awakened this anxiety within us that then we don't know what to do with.
And so that's why the book couldn't hit at a better time … for me to say, “Hey, this is what it is that you're going through, here are some practical ways to deal with it. By the way, if you are a friend or loved one of someone with this, here's how you can help them and here's how you can talk to them about what's going on and understand it as well.” So like you said, the backdrop couldn't be any more relevant and the early feedback is people are just like, “Thank you, I'm finally understanding what's going on.”
Blair: Well, that's really good to hear that people are taking it positively. On that note as well, I'm curious what your experience with the pandemic was like and if there was anything that you took from your book that you found very specifically helped you as you dealt with the mental health issues that came [from] pandemic-related restrictions and the pandemic itself.
Seidl: Doug, I'll never forget where I was about that time in March. And it's still, it was like, we just got word that all of a sudden the flight restrictions were in place and the president was going to be addressing the nation that evening, or one of those evenings right around there. And I thought, oh, crap, this is bad. We were selling our house at the time within days, the buyers pulled out; we were stuck with the house that we thought we were going to sell. We had to pull out of the house that we had [made an] offer on. And I had that moment … where my anxiety just raged. …
I was still in the process of writing the book as well. And it was one of those where you have to be like, OK, if you were a doctor … I need to diagnose myself here and realize what this is and take some of the steps that I talk about in the book. And so the prescription that I gave myself was everything from some practical mental health exercises, practical physical exercises, as well as to, as a person of faith, some of the spiritual stuff that I feel like goes on as a result.
But the other thing that I will say has been just really frustrating to me. This is on both sides of the aisle … one of the things that I feel like just us anxiety sufferers as well as those who maybe aren't clinically diagnosed but are finding themselves in this position, is that there's just such a lack of hope that we're being offered, I think, from both sides. You have … just a lot of people dealing in fear and anxiety, on a very basic level, fear of the unknown. And so what happens is your fight-or-flight response kicks in …
I'm hoping that our leaders, all stripes, all political persuasions, will … please give us more hope. And I think that's easy when you look at the current administration. It's like, “Hey, give us more hope.” But even on some of the conservative and Republican side is, don't just counter that, the fear that's being peddled there, with more fear of your own. Give us hope. We have such a deficiency of hope …
Blair: I think that's such a great message. Hope is obviously the thing that keeps you going in a lot of these situations that can seem very dire. … If you have hope that things will get better, then it keeps you going. Now, one of the things that you've actually mentioned on that note is your faith and how it is such a crucial part of your life. So on your website, you write that the book “calls to account the church for its historical treatment of mental health and lays out thoughtful, needed paths for the body of Christ to become a refuge of hope for the anxious.” On that note, how do you feel the church has dealt with mental health, and then what steps do you think they need to take … ?
Seidl: It's a great question and I'm glad you asked it now. I'll start by telling you just a quick story. My niece lived with us last year for a time. … I think I just had to change a turn signal [for her] or something. … I changed the signal and I turned the car on, to make sure it's working. And as I turn the car on, there's a “check engine” light. And I said, “How long has this ‘check engine' light been on?” She goes, “Oh, I don't [know], it's been on for a while.” And I said, “Well, why didn't you tell me about it? I could have helped you.” She goes, “Well, I was just hoping it would go away.”
And honestly, Doug, I feel like that's how the church has handled mental health, is that we're not going to address it. We're just going to pretend it's not there. Or if we do recognize it, we're just going to hope it goes away. And I think it's been such a detriment to us.
One of the greatest reformation preachers, went through this: Charles Spurgeon. Charles Spurgeon wrote sermons on being full of melancholy. And so this is something that's just not going to go away; it's in your pews. And I think the prescription, if you will–and that's one of the chapters of the book is a prescription for the church–is you have to start by recognizing it. And part of what I feel like that looks like is … what I call a proper theology of suffering. And I know that's a heady term, but really it's this idea of how do we deal with suffering? How do we deal with it when bad things happen to us? That we are struggling with?
One of my favorite writers of all time, I named my son after him, is C.S. Lewis. And I didn't name my son Clive, … but I didn't name him Jack, as [fellow author and academic J.R.R.] Tolkien called him. But C.S. Lewis talks a lot about this in “The Problem of Pain,” for one. And it's like the pain and difficulty is what God uses, he says, in this really poetic term, it's the megaphone that God uses to arouse a deaf world.
So what I have tried and to really embrace is that, if I am going through this, I haven't done anything to cause this. If you will, I didn't go to confession or repent of something yesterday so now I'm being struck down with this. Or it's not that I don't have enough faith. But … I'm looking at it as man, this is God saying, “I'm allowing this to happen and there's a reason that I'm allowing this to happen. And some of those I'm going to reveal to you, and some of them you may not understand fully.”
But that is what I think the church needs to do a better job of, is preaching and teaching this proper theology of suffering, of bad things are going to happen to you. I mean, if you're a Christian, by the way, your Christ Jesus says you are going to have suffering in this world. And I think that's so antithetical to some of the feel-good messaging that we get from a lot of preachers these days of just like, “Hey, everything's going to be all right.”
And it's like, no, you know what? I talk about this in the book: My stepdad and my sister died within two years of each other. That's not all right and I don't feel all right about that. But I also know that God is still at work and I've seen him at work in those instances and in the instances of my own struggle.
Blair: I think that's really good to be aware that there are going to be struggles in life. It's very difficult to acknowledge those truths, but the moment that you do it becomes a lot easier to proceed in life. One of the things that I found so inspiring in doing some research for this interview was this story about a kidney transplant to a total stranger. So you gave one of your kidneys to a man you had never met. And I just think that's unbelievable. I would love if you could tell our listeners about this story.
Seidl: Absolutely. So about two or so years ago, I'm sitting in my office and I see a Facebook post from my dad. And he says, “Hey, I've got a friend who needs a kidney and the person that they're looking for needs to have Type O blood. And if you're interested, just literally click on this link and you can sign up and they'll be in touch.” And in that moment, it wasn't this should I/shouldn't I idea, because my stepdad actually was a kidney recipient.
So growing up, I was on the other side … my stepdad was going to dialysis three times a week, literally having the life drained out of him. And so if you're on a dialysis machine, it takes all of your blood out of you, filters it through a machine and puts it back. I mean, you're exchanging this old life for new life and it's a tiring process. And I knew what it was like to just wait, to wait and see is anyone going to sign up? Is anyone going to get tested?
And so I literally just went right then and there and signed up for the form and didn't really think about it until that night when my wife gives me the quintessential “How was your day?” And I'm like, “Oh, this meeting, did that. And oh, by the way, I signed up to be a kidney donor.” And she looks at me [and] she says, “Excuse me, I don't recommend signing up to donate an organ without talking to your spouse first.”
But it did work out, eventually that person that I signed up to donate for someone else was in line and they tested as a match and so they didn't need me. And so that person had gotten to know different people in the kidney community, so to speak. And she said, “Hey, there's this guy in Mississippi, he's got five boys, no one has been a match and not a lot of people have come forward to be tested. Would you be willing to at least put your name in the hat just in case you're a match?” I said, “Absolutely.”
And so long story short, I get tested for him, we find out I'm a match. But just as we're about to do the, schedule the surgery, he is someone who has diabetes. He is a black man [and] diabetes tends to ravage that community even more so. And so his diabetes got so bad that he started to have his toes amputated and then his feet amputated and then his legs amputated. So that put the whole process on hold for about a year. And then finally, once he got healthy enough, they called me back up and said, “Are you still willing to donate?” I said, “Absolutely. Tell me where to go.” I flew from Dallas to New Orleans, I met him two days before the surgery for the first time. And we did the surgery and now he is healthy. They've nicknamed the kidney, him and his wife who are just a hoot, they nicknamed the kidney Jon Jon. And so I get regular text updates about little Jon Jon, and how Jon Jon is doing.
You talk about, why do you do it? And so part of that is my stepdad's going through that. And two, it's like, I feel like every one of us has an opportunity to give back. I'm not saying that every person has to sign up to be a kidney donor, although I would highly recommend it in the sense that it's one of the most needed transplants, it's one of the safest. And your life afterward, and I can attest to this, is normal. … But it was just one of those very, just obvious opportunities that I feel like God put in my path to do. And I did it and it's been one of the best decisions in my life. Ken is now–his name is Ken–he's now able to walk again. He had prosthetics before, but because of the dialysis, he was so tired, he could never learn to use his prosthetics. Now he can walk again.
For five years, he slept in a recliner because the fluid in his body would build up and he needed dialysis to take that out, but if he would lay down in bed, he would just swell up. And so now you've got a guy who can walk again, who can finally sleep in his own bed. And I don't say any of that, Doug, to make myself look good. I mean, listen, I'm not a perfect person, but what I tell people is, if I can do it as a not-perfect person … And I have my own crap in life that I am working through and dealing with, but if God can give me that opportunity, he can definitely do something with you.
Blair: I think that that is a phenomenal story. And I very much commend you for doing that. I think that that shows a strong character that I would hope our listeners would try to emulate. Now, Jon, we are running a little bit low on time. So I wanted to give you one last question: What advice do you have for people who feel they need help with their mental health, whether that's a result of the pandemic or just in daily life?
Seidl: I'm going to use some very wise words, and my 6-year-old daughter would be so proud of me. … If you have watched “Frozen 2,” which if you are a dad to a young girl or a young boy, you probably have, there's a song in there and it's called “The Next Right Thing.” It's this very beautiful song and Kristen Bell, who voices Anna, talks about it in there. She says it actually came from a lot of personal pain and experience because Kristen Bell deals with anxiety and depression. So my advice to you is just like in the film … do the next right thing.
It's not just a Disney thing. Elisabeth Elliot, the famous missionary, when her husband Jim was killed doing missionary work, she adopted this mantra as well. When she went back to the jungle [in Ecuador], she said, “Listen, I don't know exactly what I'm going to do, I just got to do the next thing.”
And so, like you said, if you find yourself in this anxiety-ridden state, especially as a result of the pandemic, or maybe even before, do the next thing. What I would encourage is talk to your doctor, talk to a counselor, talk to–whether it's a spiritual person in your life, a spiritual leader in your life, a pastor or whoever, start talking and find that next step. For some people that's going to the doctor, for some people it's like, “I know I have this so I need to think about if I need to get on medication.” Whatever it is, do the next thing.
Blair: I think that's really fantastic advice, Jon. Well, Jon, thank you so much. That was Jon Seidl, founder and president of The Veritas Creative, a digital media consulting and content creation firm, as well as author of the upcoming book, “Finding Rest: A Survivor's Guide to Navigating the Valleys of Anxiety, Faith, and Life,” which releases Sept. 28. Jon, really appreciate you coming on the show.
Seidl: I really appreciate it, Doug. And if people want to find out more, they can go to findrestnow.com. And that has all the information on the book as well as some other tips and tricks to managing your anxiety.
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