Day 122 - High Anxiety
Every morning my son calls me from Texas as he is getting ready to walk to the bus stop. He is filled with almost a panic. He is overwhelmed with fear, so much so that some days he can’t get on the bus.
My daughter is currently on home hospital for her anxiety. It finally pushing her to a place where going to school became too overwhelming.
My ex-husband is a pretty anxious guy. He has a lot of social anxiety that impedes his ability to connect and mingle in social situations.
I, myself, have had times in my life where I was overcome with anxiety. But that is mostly in the past, I do not feel plagued by it today. It does not run my life or really impact me all that much. I think, for the most part, no matter what is going on in my world, I live a pretty anxiety free life.
So why is it that my children suffer so? Is it genetic? Is it learned? Is it both? Can the part that is learned, be unlearned?
I have tumbled this around in my head, how to help them? How to assist them in living with the unpredictability of life? So far, I am not really sure that I have done that great a job.
I review my own history to see where I changed...where did I stop being ruled by my fear and insecurities?
It certainly wasn’t in my youth. I was a mess back then. Junior high being the place where I felt it most acutely. There were days that I would get up to go school, get completely ready and then I just couldn’t do it. I would feign illness and stay home. I can’t describe the relief that I would feel as soon as the bus drove by and I was not on it. Problem was that every time I used this solution the anxiety was always worse the next day. My “sick” day only serving to make me feel worse, not better.
High school was relatively free of anxiety for me. I also started drinking then so that is kind of a no-brainer. Alcohol medicating the anxiousness right out of my life. I failed or succeeded but didn’t spent all that much time caring about it. I just did what I did, and took my lumps where they came.
I had a resurgence in college. The drinking no longer taking the edge off and instead adding new edges that made the anxiety worse and on new levels. I ended up taking a semester off from school to regroup after a particularly bad semester.
I transferred schools and then ground out the end of my undergraduate work, then off to law school. For the most part, anxiety free. The last two years of law school were pretty fucking awful due to bottoming out with drinking, the anxiety off the charts. Apparently drinking to excess and blacking out does not calm ones nerves...who knew?
Putting the plug in the jug helped a great deal to bring down my mental stress level. I also wasn’t juggling three boyfriends at the same time anymore, so that also decreased my mental load. But I think the thing that changed most was that I began to search for a spiritual solution because my life seemed to depend upon it.
Other than a pretty bad few months a couple of years in, I have led a pretty anxiety free life since then. Turns out that having tools to deploy when the stress and anxiety hit is pretty helpful.
It isn’t that I don’t have anxiety today, I just don’t allow it to take over my life like I used to. I came to believe that I would be ok no matter what so long as I didn’t pick up, and that turned out to be all I really needed to be able to check out of the high anxiety ward and into the more chill, it will all be ok, even when it is not ward.
Today, I have learned to sit with major emotional storms and be kind of fascinated at their strength and magnitude, while maintaining a safe distance from them. I can see the fear but somehow keep it in its proper place. Never granting it access to the core, so while it may disrupt a few moments, it does not control my overall day.
Anxiety isn’t something that one can be rid of, it is attendant to life and living. If you are participating in your life and you care about it at all, anxiety seems to be a natural result. We give energy to the things we care about, which produces a need or desire to have things turn out a certain way. Which engenders a belief that we can and should produce a certain outcome. Seems as though anxiety steps in to fill the gap between reality and our belief that things should be different and it is our job to make it so.
Today, I feel a lot less responsible for pretty much everything. The big deals in my life relegated to a past that I am largely glad is over. I do not get so wound up about things not working out, or going as planned. I feel less stressed most of the time and am happier as a result.
While there are a lot of things that I do on a daily basis to keep anxiety at bay: yoga, writing, prayer and mediation. I do not do them for the sole purpose of staving off anxiousness. I do them because they create a space in the incessant internal dialogue that is constantly reading some other script than the one that is playing out before me. I need some mechanism to tap into power that I do not possess, to alter my view so that it can comport more with reality and less with my version of reality.
Mediation, writing, prayer and yoga are all ways that I connect to something larger than myself. It is this fundamental belief in some universal benevolence that has done the most to help me live a more anxiety free life. Today, I have no doubt that I am doing the right thing because whatever I am doing is what I am suppose to be doing to learn the lessons that I need to move me down the path. Shit is supposed to go down exactly the way that it is because it is. It is really very simple.
If shit is blowing up all around me, that is what is supposed to happen and I need that situation in order to help me gain skills or give skills to others to help both of us live to fight another day. I walk through all of that with a fundamental and foundational belief that all will be ok, even if everything turns to shit. Seems like such a long way away from where I started.
I wish that I could give my tools to my children, my ex-husband but they don’t want my solution. They are not interested in establishing a spiritual life buttressed by mediation, prayer, writing or yoga. Those are my “weirdo” things that none of them see as valuable. I get it, they have decided that my tools are not good tools for them. Which kind of leaves me at a standstill. How do you help someone who has decided that the problem is intractable and is not even willing to try anything new? Newsflash: You can’t.
So I talk to my son every morning. Listening to his anxiety, remaining calm and giving him love and support. I am also praying the entire time. That he be given what he needs to move him through his day. That he find the strength to get on the bus and face another day with strength and resilience. I know it is hard for him and it is hard for me to listen to someone suffer so much.
I do the same with my daughter. I listen and send her energy to help lift her out of her own way. I try to demonstrate to her the skills that I have learned along the way so that they might someday become attractive to her. For now, she isn’t interested in my tools and instead uses devices to check and numb out.
In the end, I can only be an example. I can just live my life, keeping my own anxiety in check and working with it as it comes. I can try to be a good example of someone who addresses my anxiety issues (and all of my other issues) head on so as to minimize their impact and toll.
Life is anxiety provoking. So much mystery and unknown. The next moment containing life or death all day, every day. I think the fundamental shift occurred when I stopped being afraid of that and instead leaned into it. I began embracing life’s precariousness and unpredictability. I stopped insisting that life be something manageable and controllable. I resigned myself to the belief that it is all unfolding exactly as it should be. It is all happening for me instead of to me.
I hope that one day, my children will benefit from all the work I have done. Perhaps the most frustrating thing as a parent is living with your children’s refusal to accept the help that is being offered to them. I take comfort in seeing that, that is their path, on which I am only a character. I can no more force solutions for them than I can breathe for them, eat for them, sleep for them. Their lives are their own. A simple fact that used to cause me great anxiety, but no longer. I believe that they will be given exactly what they need, to learn the lessons that they need to move them onward in their lives. My hardest but most important job, to stay out of the way. Keeping my own anxiousness in check so as not to alter their course with my neurosis. Some days this is easy, other days this is hard. Regardless, I am ever so grateful to most of the time be at peace with the process. No longer insisting that they be this way or that way. Having tools at my disposal for a relief valve when the anxiety pressurizes and squeezes me. Being very grateful for my willingness to use them.