We’ve talked a lot about the major episodes. They are terrible, but I’m hesitant to say that they are the worst part, because the underlying stuff sucks too. That underlying stuff happens to be anxiety – and that, unlike the big waves, is always hanging around. The sea is never really calm, is it? It’s always moving, churning and changing. That is basically anxiety in a nutshell.
With the big episodes, there is a definitive beginning and ending. The waves have a breaking point. The anxiety, however, is like a bug on the windshield that the wipers just can’t reach. To be honest, I think I hate that more than the big episodes. I’d rather be slammed by a couple waves than carried out by the current.
For those who don’t understand this concept – that are fortunate enough to not know the exhausting fear that something is not right – I’d like you to practice a little empathy right now. Think about a time you’ve royally screwed up – think about the panic that set in as you tried to come up with every possible way to fix it. Remember that intense pressure in the back of your head, your sweating palms, your racing thoughts? Take all of that and imagine experiencing it every day. Imagine constantly feeling that you’ve done something wrong, someone is going to harm you, or everything is going to fall apart. It is…draining. It’s painful and very difficult to explain to others.
This week, I got into an argument with a friend that really struggles to understand my aptness to panic for no reason. His personality is purely relaxed – he doesn’t stress. I struggle to understand his calm demeanor when, in my head, I’m running in circles in both the past, present, and future.
This is where I need to practice a little empathy, too. Mental illness puts a serious strain on those around you. Anxiety, especially, has the potential to take a major tole on relationships. It is difficult for those not stuck in the sea to understand why you are panicking when they see no current and no waves. It’s tricky to find a balance in these situations – learning how to behave around others when you’re caught in your head. Medication helps, I’m not going to lie. A little Ativan can go a long way in settling your nerves. However, it is a matter of relearning behaviors that once were instinct. That’s where I am right now – that’s what the primary focus was in therapy this week.
I’m currently practicing something called the “identification system” – it is the connection between mind, body, and spirit. It sounds a little strange, I know, but stay with me here. Anxiety – the racing thoughts and such – can stem from a disruption in the identification system. My problem lies in that I don’t connect the three facets of the system – I tend to the needs of each one separately. That is, apparently, a big mistake. They need each other. So, the challenge my therapist gave me this week was to slow down my identification system when it becomes overactive (in other words, when I start running in circles again). Basically, when the panic starts, I am supposed to focus on just two senses – touch and hearing. I feel the clothes on my body, the wind on my face, the gravity pulling me to my seat; I listen for the hum of the air conditioning, the breathing of others, the creak in the floorboards.
This tactic, miraculously, works. I’ve found that it pulls me out of the constant loop and plants my feet back in the present. Now, it’s not a permanent solution – I’m one of those blessed with a serotonin deficiency that actually disables my ability to let things go (otherwise known as OCD). There are, fortunately, medications for that. So, with a combination of therapy and drugs, I’m finding it easier to cope each day. It’s still difficult, but I’m going to make it.
I hope that wherever you are on your journey, you’re still keeping your eyes to the horizon. I hope you’re still watching the rays of the sun creeping up over the mountains. It is so hard, I know, when the anxiety keeps pulling you back. If it is becoming too much, ask for help. This is a real medical condition and it does not, by any means, make you crazy. Keep going. Don’t let that voice in your head keep telling you that you can’t do this because I promise you that you can.
Keep fighting the current, keep kicking when the waves crash, and keep your head above water. I love you. I believe in you. Just keep going.