Updated: Apr 18
My life-long relationship with Anxiety.
From the time I was a very small child, I remember laying awake at night worrying about....well, everything. What was that noise? Were my parents going to die soon? Will that bee that flew into the classroom Friday afternoon still be there Monday morning?
And the List Goes On
That's the thing about anxiety, it is a limitless pool of possibilities. I can find endless things to worry about...just ask my husband. I feel very certain that he has to be impressed at times by my innate ability to conjure up worries out of thin air. It's amazing really. Dare I say, a talent?
This morning seemed like the perfect opportunity to write about it. After a couple hours of lying in bed, staring into the darkness, heart and mind racing about no one worry in particular, I decided to hang up the dream of a good night's sleep and start my day early. Because, over the years, I've learned that lying awake, pondering, ruminating, obsessing, just seems to get those creative gears cranked up and I end up with more anxiety as I think of new and more creative things that will destroy me and everyone I love. So I got up and got proactive.
When the Drugs Don't Work
I used to cope with anxiety by eating and smoking. Once I quit smoking in my mid-20's, I found that I had to step up the eating to get that same numbing effect. There was some kind of sadistic satisfaction in stuffing my belly so full that it hurt. I would guess it's the same as someone who physically harms themselves in more obvious ways, in that it shifts the attention from emotional pain to physical pain. This tends to hurt less.
So the solace I found in food (combined with television--the perfect numbing agent), got me through my 20's. Then my eating disorder truly caught up with me in the form of obesity, exhaustion and what appears to now be a lifetime set of digestive issues. And now I had a child who truly needed me to be healthy and present. I couldn't hide from my anxiety anymore. I had no choice but to face it head-on and find better coping mechanisms.
Without emotional eating, I found myself, for the first time in my adult life, having full-on anxiety attacks. I tried medication and suffered miserable side-effects. More than the side-effects, I knew that there was something within me that I needed to deal with once and for all. Something that medication wasn't going to fix. (Side note: while I don't think that medication should be everyone's very first go-to solution for depression or anxiety, I am in no way shaming those who are on medication when it actually improves their quality of life! It just wasn't the right solution for my own situation.)
You Can't Fix Everything, But You Can Fix a Lot!
Yesterday when I felt my anxiety really creeping back into my mind and body, I knew it was time to regain control of my thoughts. First, I periodically found a quiet place to take some deep breaths. Literal deep breaths. I also dug into a few things I had been putting off (that were driving me nuts, hanging out there) and I felt an instant lift.
I have learned over the years that the very best way to feel back in control of my life, is to....duh, take control of my life. It doesn't have to be in big, dramatic ways either! Sometimes I only need to organize my desk to be able to take a step back and realize things aren't really spinning out of control.
But Sometimes There Needs to be More
So it turns out that yesterday was not the "sometimes" to which I am referring. I organized, I ticked things off my "to do" list but I didn't get that lift, the lightness, I often do. This became very evident when I laid in bed staring blankly ahead while my poor husband tried to have casual bedtime conversation with me. It became even more glaringly so when I found myself wide awake just a couple hours after finally dozing off, unable to shut down the absolute roar my anxiety had become inside my head.
That's when it hit me. I've completely neglected my daily practices that had finally helped to gently calm my anxiety over time. I've stopped meditating. With constant back and hip problems as of late, I find it's very hard to exercise at what I used to call my "Prozac level." I've stopped nurturing friendships. I've stopped blogging. I've stopped spending enough time outside. And I'm back to staring at screens way too much.
These things might not seem very related, but they were, not very long ago, how I finally found peace in my life.
The Wagon is Waiting
I don't usually like the overused term of "falling off the wagon," but it's way too fitting to not use right now. I fell off the wagon...again. Sheesh. I don't know how I keep forgetting.
Actually, yes I do! In the past 2 1/2 years, I've gotten married, bought a house, lost a mother, comforted a father, dealt with health and hormonal issues, all while trying to grow my business and try with all my heart to not screw up my child in the process. Life is freaking stressful folks! This is not my imagination!
So I am going to be gentle with myself and just acknowledge that the wagon didn't pull off and leave me when I got distracted and didn't notice that I had toppled off. I'm also going to give myself a pat on the back for how far I've come. Even on auto-pilot I've managed to maintain my weight, largely heal my gut (more on this one very soon) and somehow keep all the aspects of my life together.
But now it's time for me to climb back up and resume my practices. Stress will always be here. Bad things will always happen. It truly is how we deal with them that makes a difference. And what I've found is that learning to deal with these situations is very much like working a muscle. I can't sit around for months on end and suddenly be able to jump up and do an intense workout without struggle. Likewise, I can't just coast along, not doing my "work" and suddenly be able to deal with heavy, stressful things when they fall in my lap. Things like meditation and truly sitting with my feelings are things I must do every single day so that, when the hard things happen, my psychological muscles are toned and strong, ready to get me through the rough patch.
You Are Not Alone
If you read my old blog, you'll quickly realize that I used to be an open book. Almost uncomfortably so. Over time, my ego has gotten in the way. As my business grew and I knew clients and patrons were reading my blog, I found myself inadvertently trying to present myself in a more tidy way. I guess it was out of fear that revealing too many imperfections would discredit me as a trainer and health coach. However, I KNOW that being authentic allows those around me to be more authentic as well. Furthermore, revealing my not-so-perfect shadowy side lets those who have turned to me for guidance know that I am truly walking the walk. I wasn't born with my crap together. Nor do I wake up most days with my crap together.
Instead, I've spent my life gathering tools that allow me to constantly grow and evolve. It's not magic. I'm not special. I'm just as freaking broken as the next person. What I believe sets me apart from a lot of people who struggle with these things, however, is that I've learned to combine knowledge with my deep desire for growth and change. That's it. That's my big secret: Learning lots and lots of "stuff" and refusing to ever stop growing.