I have something that I would like to share. I don’t tell many people about it. I suffer from anxiety. Yep, I do. It’s out there for the world to read. I have learned a lot about myself and anxiety on my journey. Recent events and breakthroughs has led me here, to share with you how I got to where I am today.
Since I was very young I have suffered from anxious feelings and thoughts. I believe that I’ve always been a cautious, shy, and an observant child but not really understanding the why behind the ways that I was feeling. I just knew that I was always afraid and nervous. I don’t understand how this could have manifested itself into anxiety but I just assumed that everyone else felt the same way and eventually I would grow out of it.
The physical sensations of anxiety began to surface when I was about 15 and interested in boys. At that point it was a mixture of excitement and nerves mixed with a little nausea. Again, I thought this was how you were supposed to feel. Yet, I started noticing that the symptoms were becoming more heavy and debilitating.
I was consistently miserable leading up to the event, and during the event itself. For example, such events as a date, a party, or a dance at school. I began to learn how the anxiety felt in my body. I experienced knots in my stomach, sweaty arm- pits and gagging before I would go into any anxiety provoking situation. I usually wouldn’t eat on the date making the excuse that I wasn’t hungry or I had already eaten. I couldn’t look at food with out wanting to vomit or run out of the room. But I persisted. I continued going on dates and putting myself into social situations that brought on the anxious feelings because I thought the feelings would just pass. I even took a drastic measure to solve the problem on my own. I joined the cheerleading team in the eighth grade to try an overcome the anxiousness and shyness that I felt on a daily basis. This allowed me to break out of my shyness a bit but the anxious feeling persisted.
By the time that I was 21 I finally sought therapy because the anxiety wasn’t going away. I enrolled in a group specifically for those who experienced anxiety. This group opened my eyes to all the different types of anxiety that people suffer from. For the first time I didn’t feel alone. I met a woman who was afraid to drive over bridges, a tow truck driver who was afraid to drive at night, and a man afraid of dogs. The one thing we all had in common was that before choosing to seek help we kept putting ourselves in situations that made us extremely uncomfortable. We all learned Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It taught us how to overcome our fear by placing ourselves in the fear over and over until the situation or thing was no longer a threat or a fear. I learned a mantra that I would say to myself anytime I felt the anxiety coming on. “You’re in control, you got this, it’s okay, and you’re going to be okay.” But the feeling still persisted.
My fear, I found out was anticipatory anxiety and fear of eating in front of those I was attracted to. I had no idea then and to this day where this came from. I experienced so much anticipation of the event that I thought of every possible scenario way before the event ever occurred. The symptoms that I experienced along with this over-thinking showed up in my body again as gagging, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, and heart palpitations. Which in turn created more anxious thoughts. Over the three-month period I over came my fear of eating in front of others, but not the anticipatory anxiety. However, I chose to still celebrate the overcoming the eating fear. I was relieved, joyful even. I was feeling better because I had some tools and understanding to what I was feeling and experiencing. However, the anxiety never really went away. It just manifested around other fears, as I grew older.
I would say, that in the last two years my anxiety has manifested into a fear of driving in the car with other people and airports and flying. The idea of feeling trapped with no escape feels catastrophic. It sounds a little crazy to think about these fears, silly even.
Currently, when I know that I have an upcoming drive or a flight to catch, I usually don’t feel the anxiety at all until the morning of or right before the event. Anxious feelings are such a strange experience to me. I feel trapped and my body begins to respond to the thoughts that I am thinking. It like, it’s automatic. The thoughts I think are things like “how is this going to go? Am I going to feel the same? This is going to be so uncomfortable. What are people going to think if we have to pull over? What if I sweat? What if I didn’t get to the airport in time? What if I have anxiety in the seat on the airplane? And on and on my mind swirls. It’s starts with an intense warm sensation that builds in my chest, moving up my neck towards my ears. My armpits become flushed, my stomach in knots, the gag reflex starts. All that I can think is to run, to escape the feeling as soon as possible. This, I’ve come to learn is the fight or flight experience. My mind believes that I am in danger and my body needs to escape or fight the danger. If there was a real danger then I’d be prepared. It’s quite debilitating and leaves me exhausted after each episode. I feel embarrassed and rather silly for thinking I was in danger. In my quests to get a handle of it I’ve done many things other then talk therapy.
I’ve read books on different modalities to try and over come the anxiety, such as energy healing, I’ve prayed, I’ve punched pillows, and sometimes I’ve collapsed in a crying mess. Feeling defeated every single time I experienced another anxious episode. I accepted that I’d probably always have anxiety and I that some way, some how I was going to figure out a better way to get a handle on it.
This past year I joined the Excellent Example Academy run by my friend Tory. She helps women with their coaching businesses and to find awareness and clarity to pursue their passions in business and in life. Well, I’m not a coach but I wanted to join because I wanted to be surrounded by like-minded people striving to live in a way that improves their lives. To change the way they think about the world and to create change in my own life and the lives of others, to learn the tools and practicing them daily. It’s also a safe place where I can share my anxiety experiences and get advice.
On recent trip to Palm Desert, CA with my husband and I was experiencing anxiety. So I posted in the group’s Face book page asking for tips to get through this episode. Two of the group members suggested befriending the anxiety, talking to it like it’s a real person and also more importantly changing the talk in my head. Tory told me “You always have a choice in the way that you want to feel. It may not feel that way because You’ve been so conditioned to have these dialogues with yourself and the fear has been practiced so many times. By just acknowledging the fear it would give you back your power.” So first, I thought of my favorite place. A place that brings my joy. For me, that is Shasta Lake in Northern California. I thought of sitting on the dock with my feet in the water, the sun on my skin, the sounds around me. Ahh, that felt good. Then I tried to change the conversation in my mind about the experience of driving. I worked on visualizing a time when I used to love to go for a drive, the way I felt in the car, the windows rolled down, the music loud. This helped me to remember the feeling of being free and independent and the experience as positive. I also had to change the way I thought about my symptoms and have tools in place so that I’d be prepared for the next drive. And the next drive came.
For my 40thbirthday my husband and I flew up north to meet my family and then take a drive to the Sierras. I knew what was coming. I found the Calm app on my phone and downloaded it. It’s a meditation app and I love it! I love it because it has daily mediations for just about anything. Such as Calming Flight Anxiety, Managing Stress, Focus, Relationships, Inner Peace, Beginners, and Sleep. A few days before our flight I started to meditate on my flight anxiety. To stop the cycle of anxious thoughts and feelings I would have to learn to bring myself back to the present moment. It’s about creating the space between my thoughts and how I react to those thoughts and about existing with my thoughts and not reacting to them. Easy right? Maybe. The things is, at this point in my life I was willing to try anything. I’ve suffered for so long that I just wanted to feel better. One of the things I was taught to focus on was my hands and feet when I started to feel anxious. This is because both are far from my mind and by focusing on the sensations in either would pull me away from my anxious thoughts. I can tell you, it works! The morning of the flight out we took an Uber to the airport. As soon as we walked out the door, I could feel the anxious thoughts began to swirl, the physical sensations starts to rise. When we got into the car it all persisted. Immediately, I closed my eyes and I thought I would try talking to the anxiety.
Once I acknowledged it like a person I felt softness in my chest and my heart palpitations begin to subside. I said to it, “Hi there. I want you to know that we are in this together and we are going to help each other out. I know that you think that you are protecting me and this seems like a scary thing. But, we can do this together you and I. Thank you for protecting me; let’s try to get through this. We are going to focus on the sensations in our hands. Do you feel that tingling? Do you feel that warmth?” Talking to the anxiety, befriending it was helping me to calm down and get me to focus on my body. I would open my eyes, look around, look at my husband and them close my eyes. I continued to practice this and surprisingly the fear and anxious thoughts started to dissipate. I felt so relieved that tears began to well up in my eyes. I couldn’t believe that doing this practice worked. I wanted to jump for joy, to cry and release the weight that I had carried for so long. It was a winning moment. Had I really found the solution? From that moment on through out the trip, whenever I felt anxiety, if I was able, I would excuse myself and go to a quiet room to bring myself back to this loving and free space. Every morning I’d sit in meditation and practice being in the present moment, noting when I was feeling anxious, and thinking about practicing non-reactivity.
Through this process and discovery I have learned to befriend the anxious thoughts and realized that I always have a choice and to me, that is powerful. I continue to meditate daily using the Calm app to manage my anxiety. Doing this is something that I know I will have to continue to practice. It’s taken me years to get to this point. Perhaps, that has been God’s plan along. To bring me back to loving myself for what is, for letting go of self-judgment and to remind myself that I am strong and resilient. We only become wise and grow to new heights in our life experiences. Maybe some how, some way my experience will help others. I hope so.