Today was a high anxiety day. Like eleven on a scale of one-to-ten, high. It was a nail-biting, shallow breathing, jaw clenching, “danger, danger, Will Robinson”, high anxiety day. And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
These days are fewer and farther between lately for which I am mad grateful. But the familiar panic is always hovering on the horizon of my self-awareness. Like some side mirror where things are closer than they appear, a flustered funk is usually just a periphery glance away.
On these bad days, I need a system of recovery techniques practiced and ready at my disposal if I am to make it through with any modicum of success. Just like Buddha, I have a set of tools well oiled and ready to go. These daily machinations, if you will, keep me up and moving. They decide if I leave the house and whether I can be present throughout the day. They determine whether I react with negative emotion or respond with compassionate awareness. And they decide if I end the day feeling accomplished or in a sad heap feeling like a pile of useless shit.
I breathe, I exercise, I do lemons and turtles (tricks Buddha uses where you tense and then relax your body), I call a friend, I eat some chocolate, I get out of my house, I write. Sometimes I shop. I know, not the most healthy decision, but I relent occasionally and end up with flamingo flip-flops or weird kitchen gadgets and tea towels. Not the best, but it gets me away from myself.
Lately, I have been working on deciding to make a decision that might help instead of waiting for fate to play out as I flounder in my doubt and physical pain. In my anxiety paralysis, as I like to call it. This is a pain all too real considering it comes from my head. So I try to tap into my body and help the worries settle. I use my acting exercises or my somatic experience techniques. I’m full of self-help jargon.
I don’t like to meditate in a heightened state of anxiety, which is, of course, exactly when I should meditate. But it’s too hard. It takes too much effort. I’m not very good at it, honestly. When I’m “activated” I can’t manage it and then I feel worse for my failure at being unable to help myself so I don’t even try. I’m working on building the muscle memory when I’m feeling good so I can have daily access to that tool. It’s a process. A slow one.
On the really bad days, I live in a state of fear and failure so pervasive all I can manage is to stand in the middle of my living room stranded between flight and fight. Literally, I just stand there not knowing where to go in my own house. I am frozen, wishing I was anything else but me.
There have been too many days like this. My anxiety is real. As a child, I was sensitive and reactionary, socially afraid and prone to dramatics. Now I have a label, anxiety, and I am much better for it. I am not one to shirk responsibility but it makes me feel better to know that it isn’t my fault. That I wasn’t born wrong or broken. I just have anxiety.
Although I am grateful to be able to call it out and get help from professionals, it is exacerbated by my life with a “sick kid”. So on the one hand, I am better prepared for the pitfalls but on the other, it’s an un-winnable war.
Today took me by surprise because lately, I have been rockin’ a new attitude, a soul shift, that has helped keep the anxiety monster out of my throat and gut. Not only is this great news, but it goes a step further. I am becoming aware of the moments I feel good. I am noticing and getting comfortable with feeling Ok. This is huge for me and a long time coming. I’m not doing it alone, I don’t know that I could. The amount of concentration and practice it takes to catch a subtle moment of OKness is like trying to catch a fish with no pole, no net, and no arms. But I’m starting to get the hang of it and it’s awesome. I am living again and I love it!
Just…not today. Today I have gone through and through and through my self-help steps but still can’t shake this knot of tension threatening to cut me off at the nose, or diaphragm as the case may be. Honestly, if I take one more deep breath I’m going to pass out, so today calls for the mother of all coping skills. Sitting with my anxiety. Accepting my feelings. Naming my fear and shame and allowing them room to do whatever the hell they feel like doing to me for a little while longer.
I think we’ve all heard this enough to know it’s true. At this point, it’s so ubiquitous, it’s trite, which somehow only amplifies its power. I know that to ensure a feeling doesn’t harm me, I must be able to call it out, name it, and sit with it. I must allow it space to undulate and disperse on its own time. I must see it if I am to curb it.
The caveat to this is, of course, is if we are a danger to ourselves and others and then we must call for help with a fervent hustle! We must be protected as I have to protect Buddha from not only his seizures but sometimes from himself. This is real.
I can’t give in but I can accept.
From what I’ve seen, getting to the crux of feelings goes against everything society teaches us today. It certainly goes against the way our parents were raised which can’t help but bleed into our subconscious thoughts and patterns, blindly leading behavior that negates proper emotional processing. So we run from, push down, hide, and negate any feeling we’ve learned can hurt us. Any behavior we see has put us in either emotional or physical danger. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of these examples.
In other words, it’s way harder to sit with my feelings than it seems like it should be. I don’t want to, I forgot how or wasn’t taught, and doing so I am afraid I am weak. It all just sucks but it feels like we aren’t allowed to let it suck so it poisons us from the inside out. And until we can see it and name, it will continue to ooze its slow death.
Here’s the good news. Today I’m not great, but because of this soul shift along with surviving the last few years of hell and plenty of help, I know that this feeling won’t last forever. It may last a few hours or it may last days. It will definitely last longer than I’d like it to, but either way, it will pass. This seems like it should have been obvious to me as so far the proverbial sun has routinely come out. For whatever reason though, probably my stubborn control-freak-streak, I needed this lesson beat into me with each new stage of my life. But I’ve got it now and it’s a tool I’m grateful to have at my disposal.
So today, I will sit and observe my anxiety. I will let it be and watch to make sure it doesn’t take me down a self-destructive path. I will hate it with every breath. But I will let it be. Because I know tomorrow will be another chance to hold my child, kiss my husband, call my mom, and laugh with my sister.
Tomorrow I, hopefully, will take a free breath and start again. The sun may not come out, but it won’t go down on me either. Not today!