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.
Happy Monday to all. I just realized that my last post was also a Music Monday. Back to back Music Mondays. Eeek. Note to self, write more during the other days of the week!
Today’s edition features a song so near and dear to me. Darlin Do Not Fear by Brett Dennen. This song does worlds for my anxiety and really just because of title line. The song itself is mellow and relaxing in true Brett Dennen fashion which doesn’t hurt. If you do not know him and crave mellow, feel good, calming music but not sleepy music, he may be your man.
For a long time this was the ONLY song I would play when starting to get anxious in the car or feelings of panic would rise. Let me break it down. The chorus goes ” Darlin do not fear, what you don’t really know, cause it won’t last, your worries will pass”.
Do not fear what you don’t really know. I repeat, do not fear, what you don’t really know. This logic really hits me in that sweet spot that turns anxious thoughts into empowering thoughts. This is how it goes.
I’m driving, something triggers an anxious thought, anxious thought turns into ON MY GOODNESS I feel faint, what if I pass out behind the wheel, what if I crash my car and die, what if I get to work and I still feel like this and I cannot function, what if my anxiety is back with vengeance and I need to get on medication and then I can’t wean off, what if what if what if what if what if. Darlin do not fear, what you don’t really know. Inhale, exhale. Darlin do not fear what you don’t really know.
Because isn’t anxiety most times getting wrapped up in hypotheticals. Fearing the unknown. The loss of control. Not knowing sometimes is the biggest trigger of anxiety. Or thinking you know what will happen. We should not fear things we do not know. It’s hard right because anxious people want to know, they want to feel in control, they want to own all the information in the world so they can be prepared. This song reminds me to let go of control and surrender. Surrendering control of the unknown feels good if you can get yourself to do it. Playing this song on repeat when I am struggling with that grounds me. It reminds me to take each moment as it comes and to not get wrapped up in fearing all these made up situations in my head and focus on what is real and what is in front of me and what I can control. My thoughts and my breath. (And yes I know controlling your thoughts is hard!)
Till next time ( promise, before Monday!)
“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.
Today I am having a day. I did not sleep well last night and being tired and not well rested is an anxiety trigger for me. My defenses get low; I don’t feel mentally strong to implement my anxiety fighting tools and tricks I have gained over time. I feel defenseless and usually my first thought is to turn my car around, go home and ride it out under the comfort of my blankets. History has proven that this tactic actually makes things worse because then what happens is I feel bad about myself for having to do that. I worry about missing work. I then think “I can’t just stay home every time I feel anxious.” Trust me I did that once, went home every time, and it did me no good. In fact it made the anxiety stronger as I let it win.
So the other option is to ride it out. Feel uncomfortable and remind myself that I most likely will not feel this way tomorrow because I did not feel it the day before or the day before that. And if I do feel this way tomorrow it is okay too, because I know I can get through it. Is it uncomfortable, oh yes. But it is not forever. I think what use to keep me in a bad cycle is that when I felt this way I assumed I would feel this way tomorrow and the next day and the next day and forever! I would be essentially making a date with anxiety telling myself I would feel it tomorrow. And then of course I did, because I was telling myself I would. One of my favorite songs is by an artist named Brett Dennen. The song is called “Darlin Do Not Fear.” And one of the lyrics says “ Darlin do not fear, what you don’t really know.” And I repeat that to myself often. I do not know what tomorrow will bring or how I will feel so why should I fear it right now, in the present moment.
So today although I feel “squirmy” with anxiety and fatigued I can only think about today and how to power through and do the best I can. Like the quote in the title says, not every day is good but there is something good in every day and you can focus on that or you can focus on why it is not good. So today I decided to focus on other things. I wrote in my gratitude journal, forcing me to find the good in today. I made a massage appointment for later and I will make sure to meditate when I get home. It doesn’t mean I am not still anxious as hell but I am deciding to let it be. Let the feelings run through me and don’t fight them, judge them or try hard to combat them. Let it be for today and hopefully with a little rest tonight, tomorrow will be better.
And the voice in your head should not sound like Simon Cowell. The worst thing you can do for yourself is attach negative judgment to the way you are feeling. Has any of this ever sounded like you? (Cue critical Simon Cowell’s, British accented voice)
– Why am I feeling like this when I felt great yesterday, I will never get better
– Why can’t I just be happy?
– Why am I feeling like this, what is wrong with me
Give yourself a break! Look at it this way, when you are feeling happy and joyous do you sit there and say “Why am I feeling happy?” Do you analyze the fact that yesterday you did not feel as happy but today you do? No you just feel happy and you go with it. Other feelings and emotions should be no different. Feel them, go with them. Fighting against them only makes them stronger. Ride it out without judgment. Instead try speaking compassionately to yourself. Tell yourself it is okay to feel this way, it is normal and emotions are ever changing and what you feel today will not necessarily be true tomorrow.
It has been said that what you resist, persists. So why not just sit with your emotions. Don’t try to force the feeling away because you know what usually ends up happening? You realize you cannot force it away and then start more judgment on yourself for not being able to make yourself feel better.
In my experience not dwelling on how I feel or judging it and just letting it be actually usually makes the undesirable emotion seem less strong. I use to go into frenzy when I felt anxious especially after a prolonged period of progress. I immediately thought I was going backwards and that this proved I would never get better and I judged myself so harshly and the judgment is what ended up sending me backwards, not the anxious feeling I had for a day.
I am not saying dismiss your feelings. I am only suggesting not attaching negative thoughts and judgment to them. Learn to live alongside of them. You may have moments of depression, panic, anxiety your entire life but the way you react to them can greatly change your experience with these conditions. Treating them like an enemy will do you no good.
You feel depressed? Ok feel depressed, you feel anxious, panicky, and fearful, so then feel them, truly feel them and let them be. Like my favorite author and Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh says (paraphrased), smile through your negative feelings. For every time you smile through them you lessen their strength. If you try to run from your pain, there is no way out.
So feel, breath and smile and don’t judge!