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by Kyle Thompson

It’s a sunny afternoon, and I’m riding my bike around my safe, quaint neighborhood with a few of my closest friends when all of a sudden a cloud of doom looms over my thoughts. My pulse quickens, my head becomes hazy, and the oxygen around my body scampers away as I desperately try to draw it in. I feel as though my heart will explode like, a wet grenade within my chest. I slow my bike to a halt and slump to the ground as irrational fear courses through my pounding veins. My friends look at me like I must be joking around, sure that I will wait until they are thoroughly convinced by my act before I pop up and yell “Gotcha!” But soon they realize there is something actually wrong — albeit within my mind — and that I truly feel like the world is closing in on me.

Their sincere attempts at reassuring me that I am experiencing a fleeting panic attack wash over me with little effect. Hour-long minutes pass by and, like a camera slowly adjusting into focus, my reality eventually shifts back to normalcy. The terror is over, but a distinct feeling of defeat sets in. I attempt with little success to make sense of the now embarrassing debacle: ‘Am I stressed about work? Did I get enough sleep last night?’ I cannot pinpoint why a relatively safe, comfortable and happy person could possibly fall into such an
intense state of dread. Dread that would be easily justified had I been on board a sinking ship smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during a torrential storm.

Lucinda Bassett, Photo by Clarke Henry

When this panic episode occurred years ago, it served as a clear sign that I could no longer deny my mental health struggles simply because they did not make sense to me. At first, this reluctant clarity left me emotionally marooned, but as I became more cognizant of my pain, I began to notice a previously hidden world of systematic self-denial and self-medication within my friends, family members and colleagues. Prescription pills and alcohol serve as blinders for traumatic pasts and stressful futures, allowing anxiety sufferers to live relatively functional lives. I soon learned that, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States alone. And while anxiety disorders are often treatable, the ADAA reports that only about one in three anxiety sufferers receives treatment. 

The realization that I was not an anomaly evoked both a sense of sadness and camaraderie. I did not want to become trapped in a cycle of self-medication, nor did I want to continue living in a state of mental anguish. It was time to seek help.

Deciding to get help came as a huge relief initially, but I soon became burdened by an uncertain future held in common by many anxiety sufferers: not knowing where to take the next step. Where do you turn if anxiety or depression becomes a defining feature of your life? Your family? Friends? A therapist? While I researched a varied amount of techniques and methods, one option I never explored was the world of self-help. Often times “self-help” conjures up the image of an over-the-top infomercial that makes impossible promises and questionable claims: “For just ten payments of $19.95, you will receive 40 copies of my book that will fix all of your problems with one read!”

Lucinda Bassett, Photo by Clarke Henry

My preconceived notions about the ineffectiveness of self-help shattered when I met self-help author and motivational speaker Lucinda Bassett, an exceptional and compassionate woman who is successfully navigating the age of anxiety.

I met with Lucinda on a beautiful breezy day at an ocean side restaurant to learn her story and understand her role in the world of self-help and mental health. A charismatic and confident woman, Lucinda immediately made me feel welcome and comfortable. She sat down and readied herself for what would be a pleasant discus- sion about some challenging topics: mental illness, suicide and perseverance. When I asked her to give me her elevator speech on what a person suffering from anxiety or depression should do, she did not pull out a copy of one of her books or hand me her card or direct me to her website. Instead she supplied some simple and sound advice: “If you think you need help, you probably do.” Well, that’s one way to cut through the self-denial. If you are consistently combating anxious or depressive thoughts, or if instability rules your life — perhaps alcohol or other drugs play a role — then there is a good chance that you need some kind of help before things worsen or spiral out of control. Lucinda advises to “start with your family doctor.” Lucinda explains that this first step will enable your doctor to recommend a psychiatrist that specializes in the area that fits your needs. 

Perhaps I am somewhat of a cynical individual, but this refreshing and confident response caught me off guard. I was expecting to be pawned some vague advice about thinking positively, while being peddled a hefty hardcover price, but instead she offered effective and practical tips. It was moments like these during my interview with Lucinda that enabled her to win me over on both a personal and professional level. I was talking with someone who truly cared about the well-being of others, someone whose high level of success was earned through sincerity and compassion.

Lucinda Bassett, Photo by Clarke Henry

Lucinda’s journey to become such a passionate and compassionate voice in the world of self-help and mental health began through her own struggles. Paralyzed by severe agoraphobia and depression, Lucinda knew that she needed to take action if she was to ever function as a normal human being. This decision to begin her journey to mental health recovery would not only enable her to live a happy and healthy life, it would serve as a blueprint that others could follow in order to help themselves. “I started doing all of this research, and I treated myself for my anxiety and my depression… and that research lead to me helping other people.” 

Lucinda’s journey has become such a passionate and compassionate voice in the world of self-help and mental health through her own struggles.

Through her suffering and recovery, Lucinda became quite passionate about the world of mental heath improvement. She started a thriving company with her husband called the Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety, appeared on popular talk shows such as Oprah, wrote the successful self-help book “From Panic to Power” and aided countless people in overcoming their psychological struggles. It appeared as if she had finally escaped her anxiety and depression, and that she would spend the rest of her career rescuing other people from its grip. However, five years ago, she found herself right back in the thick of crisis: facing the death of her husband.

In the midst of speaking around the world about mental health and developing a reputation as a go-to expert of anxiety, Lucinda returned home to care for her husband. Lucinda’s husband, a long time bipolar disorder battler, became unable to manage his mental illness. “Here I was, Lucinda Bassett, the anxiety and depression guru, [but] my husband is bipolar and hospitalized for psychosis, and I couldn’t help him. But I don’t treat severe mental illness.” She found the best psychiatrist she could to prescribe her husband medication, but his condition continued to deteriorate regardless of chemical intervention. 

Lucinda Bassett, Photo by Clarke Henry

“He was falling apart. He would lay in his closet and wring his T-shirt in the dark and worry and say “We’re going to lose everything.” Knowing that her husband had attempted suicide in the past, Lucinda tried to have him hospitalized for fear that he was a danger to himself. On a rainy night in 2008, Lucinda pleaded to a psychiatrist that her husband was unstable and potentially suicidal. However, her husband convinced the doctor that he wouldn’t hurt himself, and he went home. David Bassett took his life the next morning: “In that moment, I totally fell apart.”

Doing her best to keep her family together through its loss and a series of other disasters, Lucinda shared that she never thought she would make it to where she is today. And yet, there she was, smiling strong as she told me that she had survived. She took the elephant in the room during our interview — the tragic suicide of her husband — and turned it into a beautiful centerpiece. She did not skirt around the topic like someone still in denial of a painful  reality, nor did she obsess over it as a way of reassuring herself of her resilience; I found myself inspired by her blend of vulnerability and confidence.

For those that suffer from anxiety or depression, Lucinda’s powerful story of tragedy and triumph serves as a brilliant lighthouse in dark, troubled waters. But more than just being an example of hope or proof that recovery is possible, Lucinda provides people with effective tools to set his or her own course to recovery. Her approach, as is evidenced by the proactive title of her most known program: “Attacking Anxiety and Depression,” involves prescribing practical and effective methods for combatting mental illness. Whether it’s her step-by-step method for surviving a panic attack — a process marked by not running away from the painful experience and reminding yourself that it will pass — or her more general advice of re prioritizing your life so that overcoming anxiety is at the top of your to-do list, Lucinda’s methods are tangible, clear and efficacious. She believes that by discovering what is at the heart of your struggle, you can take direct actions to fix the real problem and not merely fend off its manifestations. 

“First of all, what is your real issue? What are you struggling with and what’s causing it? And then, how do I get you to go from being a reactive thinker — someone that reacts to stress in a way that they’ve always reacted to it — to being proactive.” Upon reading the numerous testimonials on her website, which consistently praise Lucinda as a lifesaver and an inspiration for positive change, one can clearly see the benefits of her methods.

While there are certainly better and worse ways to deal with mental illness, it is a mistake to think that there is only one right path to mental health recovery. Lucinda blazed a trail for many people to walk, but others may need to find their own route to mental health improvement. Because her expertise is derived from direct lived experience and not from a doctorate degree, Lucinda understands that some people will seek advice from other sources, a reality that she is perfectly comfort- able with: “Don’t just take any one person’s word for anything…You may need medication, and you may need to work with a psychologist, and you may want someone like me who’s been through it that can talk the language that you understand.”

When the interview ended, I found myself planted in traffic, looking back on my own experiences with stress and anxiety only to realize that my journey was reminiscent of Lucinda’s. I am where I am today — happy and healthy — because I decided to take action and do my own research on ways that I could heal myself. While I have never read any self-help books, I certainly took on the self-help mentality by (eventually) curbing my stubbornness and refusing to deny my problems so that I could get help. With the support of wise and endearing friends and family, I decided to take matters into my own hands. 

This involved a cornucopia of changes, everything from shifts in diet, exercise and attitude to avoiding self-medication. Sure, I still have days when my stress gets the best of me, but no longer do I feel the oppressive power of panic dominating my thoughts when times get tough. I wish I could go back and talk to myself on that sunny day right after I had survived the panic attack and offer reassurance that I am capable of rising above the pain. Lucinda’s work achieves this effect for many people since she stands as a survivor, offering people the tools and hope they need to overcome their own trials and tribulations. She does her best to help people, not by selling them a miracle fix, but by showing them the true power they have inside. 

In this way, Lucinda breathes new life into the world of self-help. I greatly admire and respect her endeavors in bringing light and hope to the millions of anxiety and depression sufferers around the world.