A blizzard is on its way where I live and it is reminding me of a great lesson a past blizzard had taught me. There are opportunities for lessons everywhere, even in the weather. It goes like this…
There was a time when I could not be alone. My anxiety and panic was new, and it was terrifying and I required a constant rotation of friends and family by my side forcing me to avoid my scary thoughts and feelings and use them as false sense of security. I was unable to feel safe by myself. I feared my thoughts would put me over the edge, that I would go crazy, and I needed someone always. I was single at the time living alone so this meant spending a lot of time crashing on the couches of others. The nights I did have to spend home were torture. The funny part is, this couch hopping actually made me feel worse because I would tell myself that this would make me feel better and naturally it didnt. They couldnt jump in my head and untangle the mess of thoughts and they could not go in and soothe my frazzled nerves. So it actually frustrated me because deep down I knew I had to learn to be my own safe harbor. I knew that nothing anybody could say or do or how many people I surrounded myself with could fix my panic and anxiety disorder. The only thing it did bring me was a tiny sliver of peace knowing if I went crazy someone was there to make sure it didnt get out of hand.
And then a blizzard was coming. A state of emergency, snowed in for days, stock up on essentials, better get a good shovel and snow boots, hell of a storm. I knew I would have to be alone. I had to do this and what better way then when you cannot leave and nobody can get to you. It was exposure therapy at its finest. I could in theory go be snowed in at someone else’s house but I decided that this had to be done. I told myself that if it broke me, if I went into a crazy anxiety panic downward spiral from it then at least I tried. I faced the fear of being alone with my thoughts and unpleasant feelings.
And something miraculous happened. When I did not have the option to run, when I did not have the option of calling someone over, or getting in my car to go somewhere I was forced to deal. And I had zero anxiety or panic the entire three days. I mean ZERO. In fact it was a turning point for me. Those three days restored my confidence in myself and my strength and let me know I can overcome this, I can learn to deal. I am stronger than I think. Facing the fear shed light on it, it was not so scary. Having the options in the past made it easy for me to crumble and cave. Having no choice was like a switch in my brain went off.
When the snow outside started to melt, slowly so did my symptoms. Facing a fear head on and the regaining of confidence from doing so is a powerful thing. I diminished it to nothing just by facing it. That was the end of running to other people’s house. I slowly started not getting anxious on my drive home from work knowing all the co-workers and conversation and busyness of the day would be gone and it would just be me. I didn’t fear weekends without plans, or weekends with plans. It really was the start of the healing. And that little bit of confidence gave me the strength back I needed to do other things to help the healing process that I was too burned out in the anxiety cycle to focus on prior.
Is there something in your life you are avoiding or running from that you can attempt to face? Think about it, even if it is small it is worth a try. You may relapse at times ( I did at certain points) but to less severity and still with the knowledge that I have and can get past it with real life proof of that.
“All at once, the world can overwhelm me
There’s almost nothing that you could tell me
That could ease my mind.”
All at Once – Jack Johnson
When I was a little kid the news had to be shielded from me. Upon catching wind of a meteor that was possibly headed our way, I wore my bike helmet in the house for a week. Upon hearing about the Oklahoma City bombing, I could not go anywhere without fixating my eyes on the exit and devising an escape route in my mind. And I looked at everyone as a suspect. These are a few examples. I would like to say as an adult times have changed, however times have NOT changed. I don’t have that detachment that many people can achieve when hearing about tragedy. Yes it makes other people feel sad, and they feel sympathy for those involved and the families but then they mostly can go about their day. I wish for that. I cannot go on with my days, weeks and sometimes months after hearing about tragedy. I carry it with me. I was never that person that thought they were invincible and had that ” it would never happen to me” mentality. I have the “Oh my goodness that could be me!” train of thought. Hello anxiety, no wonder you are ever presence in my life.
Lately I have been brought way down by the events and state of the world. I cannot tell if things are just really really bad right now, or it is the same level of evil and tragedy and bad that was always there, but when you are young you tend to not hear about it all, and with social media you hear about EVERYTHING that normally your regular newspaper or news channel might not cover. Either way I have had to stay off of Facebook because I was exposed to some horrific images, and tragedy after tragedy with people sharing news stories that I tend to avoid by not watching the news or reading the newspaper. I am not like you. I cannot go about my days.
It stops me in my tracks, it invades my mind and takes over and does not let go for weeks. And people in my life know it. They avoid talking to me about something they heard in the news, they stop the conversation about it the minute I walk in the room and they refuse to engage me if I keep pestering for more information because they know how I will internalize that information.
“Which way will you run, when it’s always all around you, and the feeling lost and found you again, a feeling that we have no control.” All at Once, Jack Johnson
So what am I to do? Bury my head in the sand and only watch things with puppies and babies and sunshine and rainbows? This is not realistic. I am trying to find the balance between compassion without taking it all on. What I have been doing lately is switching up my gratitude journal. Instead of 5 things I am grateful for each day, I write 5 beautiful things about the world. Trying to counter balance the negative. It is something, and it helps but it is not enough. So for all you normal people out there who can watch and read the news without crawling into fetal position and feel like the world is crashing around you, I am open to your insights and words of positive encouragement.
You know when you feel all antsy and anxious inside. You cannot concentrate, your monkey mind is swinging from vine to vine and you think “Surely I am coming off as crazy as I feel inside.” You’re not. Because you are not your anxiety. The real you, the person you are is still being shown to the outside world despite what your inside dialogue is doing.
Yesterday I got two unrelated, and unsolicited nice emails from friends. Friends who do not even know each other and my relationship with them each are very different. Friends who know about my anxiety, have witnessed it, and yet still see the real me despite that.
Friend # 1 says:
“You are like sunshine. You just got to get some. You are a treasure, unlike any other human being I ever met.”
Moments later I get an email from another friend.
Friend # 2 says:
“You have this heart of literal gold.. and you radiate it.. Its one of the reasons why so many people love to be around you.. In some ways your kind of addicting.. You are bubbly and always seem happy.. even if you’re really not inside”
The point of this is not to gloat and show off how awesome my friends are and how lucky I am to have them. It is to show you that your true authentic self is not defined by your anxiety, depression, ocd, whatever ails your mind. People will see through to what you really are. You never are outwardly acting as crazy as your mind makes you think you are.
My second point is that you get what you give. I was left wondering, what have I done that would make two people send such lovely thoughts to me in the same day and I realized it is because you give love you get love. And I found one of the best ways to take the focus out of your head, your problems, your ailments is to give. Give, give, give, and you will get, get, get.
Now go give love and reap the benefits of getting because that is what will define you in the end not your anxiety.