Frankly, I’d be worried if I didn’t have anxiety. It’s in my blood. Hard-wired in my brain. Genetic. Quintessentially Jewish. (Don’t you just love stereotyping?)
All kidding aside, I have suffered from anxiety all my life. My mom was anxious, as her mom before her was, I imagine. We are an anxious family. When I was a teenager, my anxiety blossomed – Georgia’s kudzu gone viral. It got into everything, overtaking my developmental growth. I had panic attacks at least a couple of times a week, only I didn’t know what they were – they didn’t have a name. I believed I was crazy. They came before every test in high school, every time my family went out to eat, on the subway going to school, performing with my HS chorus. Most likely, I had them in my sleep.
Finally, a beloved and trusted therapist of mine, whom I saw for 12 years (until shortly before her death), gave these attacks a name. Anxiety attacks. Panic attacks. (Here’s a great article about anxiety from The New York Times Magazine in 2012.) It was such a relief to know I wasn’t crazy – at least not on that level. That I wasn’t alone. That other people experienced these enervating episodes as well.
Skipping forward 25 years, I learned that my flashbacks were also forms of anxiety. (More about flashbacks in a couple of days…) Once again, I experienced the relief of understanding that I wasn’t nuts – again, on this limited level. These were huge steps in helping me begin to control my anxiety, at least enough to feel functional in the world.
It is most certainly a process. I have coping skills that I didn’t have, or believe possible. Breathing really helps. Not regular breathing – the kind that keeps you alive. Deep, mindful breathing. Square breathing (breathe in for four beats, hold for four beats, breathe out for four beats, hold for four beats). Meditation is a miracle. Clearing my mind – as much as I am ever able – while mindfully breathing, even as I acknowledge the thoughts – usually anxieties – popping into my head like popcorn popping in the microwave, and letting them go. I can do this for 20 minutes at a time now. It used to be 30 seconds, and then I’d be too anxious to continue.
I can put my face into water now. Never did I imagine I’d be able to do that without paying a price for hours. Or days. I used to put a washcloth over my eyes when I washed my hair. It was the only way I could put my head under the water. Now, I sort of enjoy the feeling of the shower on my head – even my face. I have to ready myself for it before I do it, but it’s an improvement.
I still have a long way to go. But now, I sort of look at anxiety as an old and trusted friend. We don’t have that much in common any more, but we visit from time to time, reminiscing about the old days. My friend had more fun than I did, as it turns out, but now the tables have turned, and I’m the one who’s enjoying things more. She goes her way after a few days, as I do mine, knowing that we’ll meet up again. And catch up again.
Come back tomorrow to find out about my next healing epistle: “Down With Depression.” Can’t wait to see you.