This past Monday, I got together with author and good friend, Cliff Wise, to discuss his personal experiences and work with anxiety. In the face of this coronavirus pandemic, I think we’re all experiencing some level of anxiety. Cliff believes now more than ever, people need to come together (virtually) to openly talk about anxiety and shed the fear of asking for help. His goal is to let people know that they are not alone, and he is actively accomplishing this mission every day through his love of writing.
Cliff was raised in an interesting household where status and social gatherings mattered, but feelings and personal boundaries were swept away. When he was a child, his parents often threw sophisticated dinner parties and invited large groups of friends into their home. While he felt much more comfortable talking to the help or remaining upstairs in his room, he was often pressured into the crowd to act like someone he was not. He remembers being called down in his pajamas one night, asked to speak in French in order to blend in with the aristocratic group. With little room to relax and recharge, he started experiencing feelings of fear and discomfort. At age six, he had his first anxiety attack. He thought someone was trying to kill him and suddenly couldn’t breathe, but without any psychological guidance, these feelings were pushed down.
As he grew older, his body and anxiety grew too. He tried to fly under the radar in school, but his physical self had other plans, growing faster and taller than all of his classmates and many of his teachers. Much like Ewan McGregor’s character in the movie Big Fish (one of my all-time favorite movies), Cliff actually grew faster than his bones could handle. He almost spent a year in a body-cast, but instead he chose to continue school and play sports like the rest of the kids. One day, while playing baseball and hitting what could have been a home run, Cliff’s hip gave out and caused him to writhe in pain between first and second base. He laughed as he told me this story, finding the irony in everything, and I smiled along with him, intrigued by his whimsical life and his infectious humor.
As an adult, Cliff continued to experience anxiety and started seeing a string of “shrinks” as he delightfully puts it. Unlike me, he is not completely against psychiatric drugs and does believe medicine has its place. He talks fondly of his current “shrink” and hopes to break down the concept that “all psychiatrists are bad and in it for the money”. Cliff is extremely fascinated by science, especially the new controversial studies that are looking at the possible benefits of psilocybin microdoses (AKA psychedelic mushrooms). He looks forward to breakthroughs in science, but I continue to be much more fascinated with his personal life and passion for writing.
Much like me, writing has always been a safe place for Cliff to express himself and find peace. His second book, Anxiety is Not Depression: A Daily Reader is the first book he gave me and the first book that connected us on a deep level. Each page is filled with poetic “outpourings” that paint the picture of what the world looks, feels, tastes, and smells like to a person like Cliff who experiences anxiety. His words are extremely vivid and come from a profoundly honest place that I think most people can relate to. I spent about a year flipping randomly through the pages to land on a different “outpouring” each day, growing closer to Cliff and our shared experiences over time.
While I spent the last year believing Anxiety is Not Depression to be his only book, Cliff recently revealed that he has had two other books published on anxiety. He casually shared these two other books with me, as if writing a book is as easy as breathing and as if talking about mental issues is as normal as saying “hello”. All three of his books are entitled Anxiety is Not Depression with different subtitles, styles, and goals. His first book, subtitled Bring Order to the Chaos, is full of methods to ease anxiety drawn from personal experience, and his most recent book, subtitled Questions and Answers, pulls together all the questions he has answered on the website Quora regarding depression and anxiety. All three are full of hope, whimsy, positivity, and humor. All three reflect his character and achieve his goal of bringing awareness to anxiety and reminding people that they are not alone.
Cliff is highly aware that he is not a “shrink” and often passes the authority to give professional advice to the doctors, but from what I have read and seen, Cliff is more than qualified. He has lived and continues to live the experience of anxiety, and to me, firsthand experience is everything. I don’t believe a person on the outside can ever truly understand and determine what’s going on in someone else’s mind—at least, not nearly as well as the person who is actually inside living the experience. The reason why I love and relate to Cliff so much is because he is humbly human. He bares his truth in order to help others bare their own, and in that way, he is helping people from the inside out instead of the outside in. Cliff can disagree with me all he wants, but I think his words and his experience are the very best medicine he could ever give.
On top of writing and publishing three books, Cliff has also recently started his own page on Quora called “Inside Anxiety/Depression.” So far he has about sixty followers and has received about 151,200 views, but numbers don’t matter to him. All that matters to Cliff is spreading hope and doing his best to offer a safe place for people to come and discover that they are not alone in hating dinner parties (some of Cliff’s humor rubbed off on me). He does everything for free and will continue to do everything free of charge on his own time because he is passionate about helping others. He has also started putting together a website that he hopes to run with other like-minded people who have different experiences and gifts to share.
By the end of our conversation Monday, over two hours had passed, but neither one of us felt anxious to leave. Although Cliff and I have both experienced waves, our waters remained calm together, flowing peacefully as equals rather than choppy as people with varying degrees of “expertise”. Cliff is a big believer in meditation and the power of the present moment. He believes “right now is all we have, so why not make it fun and interesting?” Within those two hours spent together, not only did we laugh and relate, but we also both felt comfortably seen. Without fear of judgment and without the pressure to put on a mask, both our walls came down and our anxiety slipped away.
For more information on Cliff Wise:
Quora Space: https://www.quora.com/profile/Cliff-Wise
Medium Blog: https://medium.com/@cliffwise01