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Living in Stressful Times

Living in Stressful Times


We live in stressful times. One need look no further than any newspaper or any TV newscast for confirmation of that. In some states the unemployment rate nears 14%. The economy is fragile and jobs are scarce. We are fighting two wars that at times appear impossible. Budgets are being cut and services stopped. It's hard not to notice. And it's hard not to be discouraged. Our therapy practice has been inundated with requests for counseling, the spikes in anxiety and depression among our clients mirroring that of the population in general. Everyone is worried to some extent. Many feel overwhelmed. It goes without saying that we are all looking at a similar picture and witnessing the same events. Those of us living with HIV, however, also share the daily stress of living with the virus and related issues in our lives that create additional challenges. The larger forces at work -- the economy, the wars, the budget cuts -- stir fear of the unknown. Ultimately, HIV is yet another unknown. Living with a virus constantly adapting to the medication that targets it also stirs fears. As I have done so often, I write not as a therapist alone but as a fellow survivor coping with HIV and trying to live life with my dignity and humanity intact. I'm honest about my own challenges -- emotional, psychological, and physical. I also have been candid about living with depression. The larger gloomy picture, in concert with my HIV and other issues, has spiked my depression. And it might be doing the same to you. In my best moments I have taken action. I have averted isolation by reaching out to others. I have kept moving to avoid shutting down. I have done something rather than stew in self-reflection. At other times I hide from others. I crawl into bed and get lost in my head, preoccupied with past hurts. I have had more days like that lately. In such moments it's easy to replicate the shame I've written of recently. I start worrying that I ought to do more, and I begin to feel bad about feeling bad. And I end up trapped again in feelings of depression and shame. Luckily, I have a solid support system and very good friends. They are wonderful, reminding me that depression is an illness, something to be worked through rather than quickly fixed. They also remind me to keep moving -- that more important than holing up in an attempt to figure things out is taking some action, setting realistic and attainable goals, and following through on them, even if it's just doing laundry, washing dishes, or taking a walk. I believe that staying active help alleviate depression because it directly tackles the fear that one is powerless to change one's situation. Taking some action -- any action -- reminds us that one has power and choice and that change is eminently possible. And if change is possible, then it's possible to feel better tomorrow. Fransen is a licensed clinical social worker who is in private therapy practice in Chicago. He welcomes feedback at

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