Just get out of the house.
Just breathe? Yah that’s it. Maybe today I will just breathe.
Anxiety. What a waste of a tremendous amount of some really great, creative, super Chronically Awesome energy I have inside of me. But I digress before I even begin.
Apprehensive expectation, the fear of what is next, can for some of us be paralyzing. The enormity of the concept that we do not know what is going to happen the next moment feels like a thousand tiny deaths. The feeling that we have no control over the realm of the future is physically, and mentally exhausting.
So many of us, the Chronically Awesome, are the thriving survivors of this gruesome guest, anxiety that knocks on our door far too often.
I woke up this morning with the same thought I wake up to every morning, and that thought immediately started the spin: the anxiety. This is not normal. This is not an event provoking anxiety situation.
Free floating anxiety is, just that: “free floating”. It arrives on it’s own, the unwanted pest that appears unexpectedly. Hell, I did not even have a chance to finish opening my eyes, and it was there.
I used to try to trace my anxiety back, step-by-step, looking for the source of the attack. I figured that if I could find the seed, the thing that set me off that I could work on that thing whatever it was, and fix it. I told a psychiatrist that I was doing this and he told me to stop. He explained that when my problem is organic, chemical, due to askew wiring in my brain, that I am chasing my tail looking for that source. There is no outside source. It just is. By searching and searching, I was creating more anxiety for myself. I was better off learning to manage my anxiety.
Therefore, I did. I learned how to manage my anxiety. Then I forgot. Now I am learning again.
The symptoms of anxiety become intrusive. They are physical. The DSM documented how anxiety feels:
- Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep)
We know how it feels, and we know in that one part of our mind, that still, calm voice deep behind the swell of fear, that this is not right.
What can we do? As the symptoms pile, we attempt to cleave to something tangible, something that we know is right, and true. We reach through the darkness for a place that is secure, that we can wrap our speeding breath around.
I have been in that place, that place where you are at the fork in the road. One road leads to the utter destruction of the panic attack, while the other road leads to fleeing as far from your life as you can get. You know that place, the total avoidance of everything. The future cannot hurt you if you simply run from it.
I was thinking about this fork in the road recently. I was more than thinking about it, I was standing at it. I was on the verge of that panic. My heart was racing, I felt like there was a giant fist gripping my insides so that nothing would work. I could not swallow, I could not breathe, my vision was blurry, frankly, I was a mess. (And I do not particularly care for being called Frank.)
And that is when I realized that if you look closely at that fork in the road, right down the middle, there is a third path. You may need a machete to get to it, but no one ever said that being Chronically Awesome was not going to take work!
I thought back to the things that I knew. I thought of the things that I used to do when these thoughts came into my head and scared the living shit out of me. If I could do those things again, the things I was doing just less than a year ago, I would be strolling back down that middle path again. I could spend full days alone, doing whatever I wanted, not worried about the next moment. Making the most of my days.
What really scared me? What is going to happen next? What is in the mailbox? Who is on the other end of that ‘unknown’ phone call? What if that conversation I plan to have with so-and-so does not go the way I wanted it to go? And what about that one, true love? (Scratch that one today, that one is deep.)
If I am standing in the middle of my living room, or sitting on the edge of my bed, what do these thoughts, these fears have any business doing in my head. Why should these things stop my day? It is time to remember how to stop the thoughts before the thoughts stop me. It is time to step back, time to take a moment
Step One: Get myself off the high dive over that empty pool.
Close my eyes.
Let the thought come in. Pay no attention to it, no matter what it is. That name that will not go away, that memory, that regret, that wish, that fear… just let them come right in. Remember that these things are popping into your head because your brain is messing with you. This is not your fault. You are going to have to go with it because if you push at it, force it down; the panic starts to bubble up. Stuffing anxiety never ends well.
I try to imagine the thoughts coming in one ear, as though an anxiety monster is whispering to me. I see the anxiety thoughts as big blocky words bouncing in my head, but I do not see what the words clearly say. And, I do not want to. Pay them no attention.
Do NOT try to read what they say. Just breathe. Breathe deeply.
Once they make it to the other side, the other ear, I imagine them bouncing right out, no attention paid.
All the while, do not forget: Breathe Breathe Breathe
This takes practice. I lost practice at this. I used to be good at it. I would sit up straight to allow the most breath to enter my body as deeply as possible. I would close my eyes, and allow the blackness to represent an empty, clear mind. I controlled the thoughts as they entered so that they were not coming at me too quickly. It was a rhythm of breath and thought… thought that was no thought.
Pretty Zen, right? (Chuckle)
It is starting to get easier again. I am relearning the old, I am adding new tricks.
Now that my Chronically Awesome situation has impacted my back as it has, I lay flat on the floor. Sometimes I stare at the whiteness of my ceiling. I find patterns in the splotches of plaster. When I close my eyes, I look beyond the darkness to images that please me. I see tulips, clouds, ocean waves.
The thoughts cannot compete with this. They come in: bounce bounce breathe breathe bounce out.
And sometimes, I take a valium.
This is Part 1 in a 2 part series on managing anxiety. Stay tuned for my next installment “A Chat With Dad”.
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