Opinion: Dear Susi Q 

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Feeling the Blues

By Lynette Brasfield 

One of my favorite books is “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)” by Jerome K. Jerome because of its wonderful humor. The story begins when the narrator finds a medical dictionary in the British Library. 

The more he reads, the more convinced he becomes that he has every disease described in its pages, from a to z—except for housemaid’s knee, an exclusion which, hilariously, he finds almost hurtful. He decides to visit his doctor. What a doctor wants, [he writes], is practice. He shall have me.

And that was in 1889, before Google.

I don’t know about you, but as I get older and witness others in my circle being diagnosed with a variety of ailments – or heaven forbid, dying – there are times when an ache, irregular skin blotch, or upset stomach sends me into a mild panic (if panic can be mild) as I contemplate my imminent demise. Which sometimes has the positive effect of inducing me to tidy up in case first responders judge my character upon finding my dead body in a messy house.

Levity aside, health anxiety is real and serious. Dear Susi Q spoke to the wonderful Kathleen (Kay) Wenger, MA, LMFT, LPCC, Clinical Supervisor at the Susi Q Senior Center, for advice about dealing with these fears.

“To some extent, this is normal as we age,” Kay says. “Staying active and socializing, practicing meditation, getting enough sleep, and minimizing alcohol can be very helpful in reducing this kind of stress.”

She adds, “When your worries focus on possible future illnesses, think about it this way: you may – or may not – contract a disease or lose your ability to process thoughts. Focus on the fact that your anxiety is likely unfounded, and give that thought more power than your fear.”

It’s also important, of course, to keep up with doctor visits and regular check-ups and educate yourself appropriately about relevant health conditions.

But when worrying about your health becomes uncontrollable and dominates your thoughts, Kay strongly suggests talking to a therapist.

“There’s a condition called nosophobia when the patient becomes terribly fearful of contracting or strongly believes they have a serious illness,” she explains. “This is a form of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be very helpful in cases like these. Just talking to a therapist can make a world of difference as we address the underlying reasons for your anxiety.”

That’s where Susi Q’s Feeling the Blues program comes in. Founded almost ten years ago, it helps Laguna Beach seniors navigate anxiety, depression and other common mental health challenges. Kay is one of several qualified therapists who stand ready to help. The program is free, however donations are always appreciated.

“We’re here to help,” Kay says, adding wryly, “Remember, as we age, we see more death…but we can tell ourselves that we’re at least alive ourselves.”

For now…

As for Jerome K. Jerome, his doctor, upon examining him, prescribes the following: One pound of beefsteak; one pint of bitter beer every six hours; one ten-mile walk every morning; one bed at 11 sharp every night; and don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t understand.

Not bad advice, even 135 years later, except maybe the red meat bit.

Feeling the Blues — Susi Q’s individual counseling program — offers free, confidential counseling with a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (donations are appreciated). In-person or by phone/Zoom, therapists help clients develop coping strategies that help them manage issues such as loneliness, a reduced sense of purpose, health issues, relationships with family and friends, and financial pressures.

If you would like to speak with one of Susi Q’s therapists, call Care Manager Martha Hernandez, LCSW, at 949-715-8104 or email [email protected] for a referral.

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