I haven’t been very committed to writing here lately, and for that, I apologize. Part of it is adjusting to my new schedule at work, part of it is that the dude and I have both been sick and thus my energy has been lacking, and part of it is that, to be honest, my anxiety has been pretty tame and I haven’t felt the need. I intentionally took the week off yoga, as well, and that’s been good. But I miss it, and that’s also good.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently (still?) about anxiety management and what that looks like. I feel like anxiety management is like good public health: when it’s good and productive, you don’t really notice it. It’s just part of the routine; it’s expected; it’s what you do. Of course I’m going to meditate on my lunch break. Of course I’m going to do yoga every day but Thursday and sometimes Sunday. Of course I’m going to kiss the dude and the dog before I leave for work and take ten deep breaths to get ready for the day. It’s just what I do.
The thing about that, though, is that sometimes you can forget that your anxiety is ok precisely because you’re doing these things and lull yourself into thinking that it will still be ok when you’re not doing them. We’ve talked about this before. The other thing about it is that, when you’re really doing a good job of managing your anxiety, opportunities to test it can be far apart.
Basically, anxiety is a paradox: you can’t test the effectiveness of your management strategies without feeling some anxiety, but if your management strategies are working, you won’t feel anxiety (or you will feel much less and feel like you can’t judge their effectiveness). This paradox would drive some people nuts, but I kind of love it because it is the absence or the lessening that provides your proof. We’re so used to showing that we’re ok and successful through our financial success or our achievements – it’s about getting or having. But successful anxiety management is about not having.
In a way, it’s about faith. Writing this feels super weird to me because in my world “faith” has always been synonymous with “christian” or “belief in god”. But that’s the secondary definition. The primary definition of faith is “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”. I’m finding that anxiety management has a lot to do with faith: I have to believe that the things I spend time doing will pay off. I have to have faith that I will be able to fall back on the skills I’m practicing when I really need them, that they will come up for me like habits when I’m in the middle of a crisis. And I myself have to be faithful: I have to give time to managing my anxiety, and that means not seeing my friends as often as I’d like in order to practice yoga and still make my bedtime, or giving up alcohol and thus having to explain every. damn. time. why I’m not drinking and why I chose to stop.
This can be really tough, though, because like I said, you can’t or don’t always see the fruits of your labor. You just have to trust. And I have some trouble with that. I prefer to do everything myself because when I ask someone to do something, and trust them to do it, and then it doesn’t get done, I feel like that person doesn’t care about me or what’s important to me. Now, maybe they’ve been super busy or they’re having trouble with the thing I’ve asked them to do or they simply won’t be able to. My brain understands that and has empathy for it. My heart is like you don’t care about me and this is why I never ask anyone for anything and why I just do everything myself. For me, learning how to trust has not just been about learning how to be vulnerable, but also about learning to have faith in people. To believe that they want to do the thing and that they will do the thing. To have faith that they will follow through.
In this vein, a lot of my work around anxiety has been about reframing it. Instead of fighting it and wanting to get rid of it, I’m trying to reframe and see anxiety as an opportunity to practice the coping skills I’m working on. I’m trying to look at yoga and meditating and therapy as things I get to do, not things I have to do. The Headspace series on anxiety has been really helpful during this process, and I’m finding it easier to reframe than I was before. I’m also trying to make conscious changes in my speech: it’s not my anxiety, it’s the anxiety. I think this more than anything has been the biggest shift; in talking about anxiety this way, I’m starting to see it as something separate from myself. I’m depersonalizing it. I see it less as a reflection of me and who I am and more like a thing I can’t control and have to make the best of, like a train delay or running out of shaving cream(hack: use conditioner).
What’s super awesome is that I can see it starting to work. This week has been tough; I haven’t been sleeping well, and I was so exhausted yesterday morning that I started crying as I got ready for work. A year ago, that would have sent my brain into overdrive: I’ve have been worrying about if I was going to sleep that night and what if I didn’t and would I lose my temper at school and what if I had a panic attack because of the not sleeping and the no yoga and on and on and on. But yesterday, without even meaning to, my brain just accepted it. It’s like it saw what was happening and automatically started reframing the beginnings of anxiety and separated it from me. It was just a thing that was happening.
Now, I don’t know what this would look like with a full on panic attack, but this makes me so hopeful: because I know that I could have actually given myself a panic attack, and I didn’t. The new connections that the neurons in my brain have made because of meditation stepped in, and did what they needed to do. And because I was separate from the anxiety, I was also dispassionate about it. It was like I didn’t care that I was feeling it, like it was insignificant. Because of that, there were no physical symptoms (well, the crying, but I honestly think the lack of sleep just put my body in a what the fuck? state). It was so cool to be able to see the two different paths and to feel all of the meditating and yoga and therapy rise up and take me down the path of least resistance, which as we all know with anxiety is the path to calm. I felt vindicated. I felt relieved. It was good to see that my faith played out and my faithfulness paid off.
I’ve been feeling recently like I’ve turned a corner, like I finally have a handle on this whole thing and can see the way to live with it, to welcome it, to even love it. I feel like I know what I need to do now, whereas before I just felt like I was floundering and trying to reinvent the wheel every time. But now? Now, all of these techniques that I’ve been practicing are coalescing into something almost systematic, something that’s a reflex. And that is such a good feeling. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still struggle with anxiety or that I won’t struggle in the future, but I feel more confident now that I can handle it. That I’ll be ok after, and that maybe it won’t be so bad while it’s happening. And really, that’s all I ever wanted.