Last week I wrote (but had not yet posted) a piece called “An Alternative to Freaking Out,” in which I described a meditation process that calms anxiety, and which has helped me move into blissful states. But then, over the weekend, I freaked out!
A wave of anxiety crashed over me and I ended up doing something I haven’t done in years: I took half a Xanax. It was helpful. I settled down and was able to rest.
I had a fair amount of negative thinking and shame around using medication to find relief. Some part of me thinks I shouldn’t need it. Another part feels like a fraud because I coach people struggling with anxiety.
When I shared this with my husband during our daily walk, he encouraged me to write about it.
I edited my piece to include my Xanax experience, but after I wrote it, I thought, I can’t share this! I felt too vulnerable.
But then I realized, I’m human! I’m doing my best, and trying to keep things real. I’m coping the best I can, just like everybody else. Also, I’m a work-in-progress and I’m still learning! Medication is another coping tool. It may be the last one I reach for, but it’s a viable option.
On my mastermind group for women writers, my colleagues and I discussed coping strategies, such as overeating, smoking weed, and drinking too much wine. We all agreed that heaping thinking onto a problem or situation doesn’t necessarily help. In many instances it’s more constructive to lay the issue down. To leave it alone, relax, and perhaps get curious (but not judgmental) about your behavior while holding yourself with compassion and love.
We also talked about simply letting yourself off the hook and allowing yourself to cope in whatever way(s) make sense.
If you need help—whether it’s medication or reaching out to a mental health professional or coach—then take that for what it is, an acknowledgment that you need help. If ever there was a time for excellent self-care and using everything at your disposal to stay healthy and happy, this is it!
Here’s my original post from last week:
I am a person who knows what it feels like to be sick with anxiety.
A few years ago, while gripped by an anxiety disorder that left me afraid to leave my house, my physical symptoms (pounding heart, adrenaline racing through my body, and crushing pressure in my chest, to name a few) terrorized me.
Today I’m grateful for that experience because I learned what anxiety is, how I innocently create and exacerbate it, and how to meet and treat it. If I hadn’t had that experience I might be living on a Xanax drip right now.
Here’s one strategy for dealing with anxiety that has helped me get through it:
When I start to feel anxious, instead of panicking, or trying desperately to distract myself, or attempting to run away from my feelings, or numb them—instead of thinking, Oh no, bracing myself, and resisting with all my might, I turn toward my anxious feelings.
I settle into an inner powwow with my discomfort. I sit (or lie) down, breathe consciously, and melt into whatever sensations are present. Open. Soften. Allow. I tell myself. This helps me surrender. If that doesn’t work I use one of Tich Nhat Hahn’s meditation techniques: As I inhale I think, I see myself as a mountain, and as I exhale, I feel solid. Or, sometimes I just say “mountain” on the inhale and “solid” on the exhale.
As I enter my quivering body, I focus on my breath and try to keep my thoughts at bay. It’s my runaway train, past or future-focused, scary thinking that’s gotten me into this state, so as much as possible I leave all that alone and drop down into the direct experience my body is undergoing without making it mean anything.
Sit with What Is
Ideally, I sit with what is and try to let it be okay that I’m struggling. I forgive myself for not being perfect. I accept my vulnerability, no matter how inconvenient or disconcerting. I resist the urge to beat myself up, and I call upon all the love and compassion I can muster for my situation and for myself.
And then I get curious. Curiosity is not the same thing as judgment. I release my judging mind, and simply ask, What else is here? In the midst of my trembling, I look around, as if I’m a humble traveler exploring new, sacred terrain.
Sometimes inner walls crumble, especially when I give up what I think I know. I realize I don’t have the control I’d like, and I don’t have a clue about life’s mysteries. I let that be okay. Then I melt and wander some more, seeking a deeper truth.
I melt until my personality (the troubled me) dissolves, letting go completely into something luminous and large.
Meeting “The One”
In this place, if I’m lucky, I encounter The One who has seen much worse than this, The One who is still here, The One who knows love (and no fear), The One who has been with us all since time immemorial, The One who understands and forgives the limitations of my personality, The One who is here no matter what, soothing, observing, and loving.
Writing this reminds me of my maternal ancestors: my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Their solid chain of nurturing informs (and is part of) me, and so is their resilience. They had their fair share of hardships; they lived through wars, within and without. I stand on my mother’s shoulders as she stood upon her mother’s shoulders, who stood upon hers. I give thanks for evolution, and accept my place at the table of spiritual adulthood. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it offers sustenance.
The One reminds me, There is nothing to fear. Take care of yourself and others. Love and be happy.
Is it appropriate to be happy during a time filled with so much suffering?
Yes, The One answers. It’s more important now than ever.
Life and Death
Lately I’ve been thinking about an old writing buddy who told me that the best year of his life was when his wife was dying of cancer. Somehow they’d accepted the fact that she was dying, which freed them to live. Their days were filled with more love, presence, and appreciation then ever before. They savored a million small moments that might otherwise have been squandered.
None of us know what the future holds, but doesn’t it make sense to fill our hearts with love and savor the moments we are given?
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