Reading another bloggers post triggered my own this morning. It reminded me of an old foe.
Panic used to have me on speed dial. I would pick up the phone and it would race over and take over my entire house. I’ve learnt how to not pick up the phone. I keep it at a distance. It is a toxic emotion and one I have fought very hard to evict from my life. But like a needy relative it still calls in once in a while.
I’ve been a worrier since I was a child of school age.
The first time I remember being anxious was as I stood on the hostel steps waving goodbye to my father as he drove away. I would reside at the hostel for a week as we lived on a property two hours out of town. A week every school week until the end of Grade 9 when I would leave for boarding school in a large City even further away. By then I would have a deep abiding bond with anxiety. But now it was still in its infantile stage – easy to crush if I had just had the tools and the awareness to know what was going on.
I am five and a half years old and about to commence Grade 1. I remember the moment so vividly because prior to that I don’t recall being worried about anything much. I had grown up to that point in the bush and had rarely experienced concern as I did pretty much as I pleased at home and had free rein and freedom to explore as far as my legs would carry me.
My life has changed dramatically and suddenly.
The steps are brick. I can smell the sap from the tree which looms to my left, its leaves are scattered at my feet. My feet usually accustomed to being bare are wearing hard new sandals. I’m dressed in my school uniform but I haven’t been to school yet. That will come later in the day. The whole world feels overwhelming. It doesn’t feel friendly anymore. It feels cold.
Every Monday my Mum (Dad only really did it that first time) will drop me off and I will face my anxiety again. With time anxiety will build into a monster that dogs my mind, pacing and panting.
Every Friday the reverse happens. Joy explodes as I see my Mother arriving and run to escape the place that has now become a cell that my monster shares.
Every Monday I will return and the cycle of extreme emotion continues.
It is not that there is anything particularly wrong with the hostel or the kids or staff. It is a boarding hostel – much as any other in its day. I don’t experience anxiety all the time – just at certain times – other times I play happily with my friends just like any of the other kids.
It is not the place but my emotions which turn on me and nothing can be done about it because that problem exists in my own mind.
Looking back I think that my extreme anxiety developed simply out of the extreme emotions that I experienced.
The homesickness and everyday anxieties of a young sensitive child left largely to fend for themselves in the rough and tumble world of institutional life contrasted with the joy of having all that go away at the week-ends when I could return to my loving parents and the serenity and solitude of the bush and my pets. One is restrictive and at times harsh – the other is freedom and love.
Who wouldn’t loath one and crave the other. But I didn’t hate school.
I had wanted to go to school. School meant I would learn to read and I did enjoy school. I just hated the lack of a comforting home environment and my parents to go home to. So I yearned for the end of the week.
I craved that rush on a Friday afternoon like an addict chases its next hit.
And this is precisely the problem with Anxiety.
Once anxiety sees what you want, what you love – then you have given the cursed beast all the information it needs to torture you. It will make you think that you can’t have IT whatever IT is. It will think up reasons that you can’t or won’t get what you love or want. Then it will tease and torture you with it. Because that what your mind does if you let it – it can turn against you.
I became obsessed with weather. If clouds came up in the sky and rain was predicted, I would be desperately worried that my parents wouldn’t be able to make it in to pick me up. Our family property was at the end of 50km of so of dirt road after the bitumen ended – dirt roads became boggy. There were several creek crossings. We only had a family sedan for all those school years – no four wheel drive. I had plenty to worry about. So I did – compulsively and every time I did – I added fresh proportions and new layers to the beast of anxiety.
So that is where I first became anxious. But once anxiety has a foothold in your mind it will flow into other situations and can become fear and be applied to all sorts of things.
I think it helps to know from where a beast springs.
How I deal now with anxiety is as the aggressor.
Where once anxiety sniffed out my weaknesses seeking to grow in strength and size – I now do the same – because I want to grow in strength and size. The beast has shrunk hugely in the last decade or so.
It is still there – it still lurks in the background of my mind and will come out snarling and barking if I let it. I don’t let it. I carry a big stick these days and it is wary. I have made the beast frightened of me. And that is where I will keep it. Anxious about me.
One day I hope to wander out with my morning coffee and find it dead, its rotting shell encircled by flies.
For anyone that is afflicted with anxiety I would urge this. Start shrinking the beast. Find all its weak spots. Find where it enters you and why. What do you want that it says you cannot have. It is lying. You can have anything you want. You can be anything you want. Find a stick (a pen?) and start beating the beast back. Don’t feed it. Starve it. Chain it up and don’t let it off its leash. It is a rabid mad beast. It doesn’t deserve your attention.
Instead – strengthen yourself. Feed yourself healthy things. Strengthen your body and mind. Find an outlet for the Cortisol and Adrenaline. Run, box, swim – move – then calm yourself with Yoga and meditation or just peaceful time spent on writing and contemplation.
Take baby steps – do things that make you proud of yourself. Become a Warrior – as they say – not a worrier.
On a final note – the proportion to which your courage and determination will grow is directly into proportion to whence it sprang from. If you feel small and weak or frustrated now imagine how strong that converse feeling will be. That is how great you will become – the converse opposite to how you feel right now and once you are there – then the sky is the limit – you just keep on growing.
I know what it feels like to be locked down in a cold sweat over something completely insignificant to someone else whose seeming strength lies simply is not being plagued by anxiety. You can become that person who is fearless and unaffected by anxiety. You were once perfect. You can become perfect again and you’re not alone. Anxiety is an endemic condition in modern life.
Love this song particularly the chorus. “I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed, get along with the voices that inside of my head. You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath” because – the only person who can save you is you.
Enjoy. Eminem and Rhianna “Monsters”