The past few years have been a roller coaster of emotions and events and lots of personal growth (or as a friend likes to call them AFOGs (another f@#king opportunity for growth)).
This past year especially, I have had to deal with a significant increase in my overall anxiety level which has ranged from consistent low-level anxiety underlying most of my days to full out panic attacks in specific situations. The most frustrating aspect of all this is that it was coming at a time when the events in my life had finally calmed down and it seemed deeply "unfair" that I was still having to "deal with stuff" when I just wanted to move on and enjoy my life.
Of course, it makes perfect sense. Stressful times in life and having to deal with crises paradoxically can help distract you from other underlying issues. While I was dealing with some pretty big issues as I made my way through the crises, there were many deeper issues of which I was not even really aware. So in a way it made perfect (albeit frustratingly and maddening) sense that they would come gushing to the surface once "the coast was clear" and things had settled down.
So this year I spent a lot of time working with my therapist and my holistic MD trying to get a handle on what was going on. What I found very fascinating is that without a crisis to focus on, there was very little I could "do." There were no immediate actions I could take, no decisions I could make to make it stop and nothing I could "fix" to make it go away. I had to focus on more general ways of dealing with the stress I was putting on myself, because that is one thing that became abundantly clear. My stress levels had very little to do with what was actually going on in my life and very much to do with my own way of experiencing the world. In fact, the most important thing that I did was to recognize this fact which had been mostly hidden to me before.
So I worked with my holistic MD to find herbal supplements and remedies that could help manage my anxiety (while they did not make the anxiety go away, it did help manage the more severe symptoms). I worked my 12 Step program through Al-anon to help me get better at recognizing what I had control over and what I did not so I could let go of trying to control things that I did not. I worked with my therapist to identify and work through the deeper issues that were coming to the forefront. This aspect was often the most frustrating because just intellectually understanding what I was struggling with was not enough to "fix" it.
But mostly I just had to sit with it. And paradoxically learn to accept what was. Because fighting it and wanting it to be "gone" only made things worse. This was and is a scary thing because there is this fear of "What if it never goes away?" "What if my life stays like this and never gets better?" Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how I look at it) I had gotten to the point that I had no choice but to trust the process (which is something that does not come easily for me).
So instead of trying to do everything I could to "fix" myself, I started trying to find compassion for myself and what I was going through. I came to realize that while what I was dealing with really sucked, it was also very healing and I was processing things that desperately needed to be processed. It was this shift from denial and anger at myself to compassion for the pain I was in that made the biggest difference. It was not an intellectual exercise...I had to feel the pain and acknowledge it without trying to make it go away. No easy thing and no "quick fix" that is for sure. It was all about the process once again (and I am so not a process person!)
This has gotten long and I still want to share more about how this shift has been happening, but I will save that for the next post. Thanks for reading this far. I find that writing out my experiences helps me process them as well and I hope that sharing my journey might help others in a similar situation.
One thing that I am definitely coming to believe is that the more that we share our struggles, the better...for ourselves because there is a freedom that comes with admitting that we are not perfect and for others in that they can see that they are not alone in feeling like they don't always have all the answers. It is too easy to assume that everyone else has it all figured out and we are the only ones who struggle. The more that people share, the more that we can realize that it is part of being human and a normal part of life.
Update: I've continued my thoughts on this here: Sitting with a Shift (cont.)