I have an unwelcome friend. It is a silent demon that only I can feel. Sometimes it falls asleep and I can feel my soul taking a deep breath. No matter how long or short it is unconcious, I know that it is still there and I know that it will wake up again. I am never truly alone. I could write about how it felt before my friend came and set up a permanent residence in my mind, but I can't remember what that feels like.
Anxiety wages a constant war in my mind and body. Inside I am nauseous, I can't breath, my heart runs fast and does somersaults. I am achy and exhausted. It feels as though I have been drinking too much coffee. I am jumpy and scattered. My brain is forgetful and having a hard time keeping up.
I hide it from most people, save my husband, close family and a few friends. I don't want my children to think of their childhood and remember their mother this way. When my friend is awake and coursing through my body, I let the kids watch too much TV and I am a bit more irritable. We eat more fast food than usual and there are usually more dirty dishes in the sink than normal. We run more errands and go to the playground more often. Sometimes I don't want to leave the house so I invite friends to come to me for coffee and playdates. Sometimes I can't stand being inside so the kids and I will spend the day out visiting family or friends.
If I could somehow eradicate that part of myself from my body, I would. I would find a way to lock it away forever so that it could never find me again. Anxiety has thrown up so many roadblocks in my life. It has given me countless self-inflicted limitations. It is a nasty adversary, never allowing me to get past my own shortcomings. How do you get past an enemy that is stuck inside of you?
Cognitive Therapy has been helpful. Two weeks ago I went into the office having reached my limit. I have avoided using medication to cope in the past, but was ready to try it if I couldn't manage to get my mind back on track. It had been a full week of severe anxiety, worse than I had ever felt in my life. My therapist walked me through a fifteen minute meditation. After the meditation, I could feel my friend falling asleep. Throughout the following week, I meditated twice a day. It was so important that I made the time for it because there was simply no other option. Every day, the anxiety continued to sleep and every day I was discovering more things about myself that had been hiding for so many years. I love my family and I love my life with them, but for the first time in a long time I felt joyful and at peace. My days were no longer being spent coping with my anxiety but dreaming and planning and creating. I had more energy. I felt so very alive and happy. A full week is the longest that my friend has fallen asleep and remained unconscious.
The wonderful thing about meditation is that doing it perfectly isn't the right way to do it. The intrusive thoughts that come with anxiety will make their way into the front of your mind. It is completely normal for thoughts to come and go through everyone's mind. The problem that people with anxiety face is that the thoughts don't go. Our fight or flight mechanism is in hyperdrive and we have a very hard time letting go of the thoughts that would otherwise come in and go out. Meditation allows those thoughts to enter. The exercise involves recognizing when your mind is straying from the exercise and choosing to let the thoughts go without judgement.
After a few days of meditating twice a day, I noticed that my mind was doing this when I wasn't meditating. An intrusive thought would enter and, once I realized it was there, I had a new ability to simply let it go. Don't get me wrong, sometimes it isn't that simple. I was about to take the kids to my sisters the other day and panic hit me like a brick wall. Nothing was wrong, nothing had scared me. I stopped in a parking lot, put on some quiet music for my kids and closed my eyes. I focused on my breathing, tensed and relaxed my hands on the steering wheel and focused on my feet and how they felt in my shoes. It may sound like a silly little exercise but IT WORKED. I kicked anxiety's butt in under 10 minutes and I was so proud of myself! I have never had control like that before.
Sometimes I will feel better for a little while and I'll think that I can stop meditating, that maybe I don't need it anymore. When that happens, I can actually feel the anxiety seeping back in, and it's terrifying. The first thing that I notice is being jumpy and paranoid, feeling like there is something just around the corner, waiting to attack. A storm or an illness, or even a physical threat. I worry that maybe the meditation isn't working anymore, that I'm going to have to start searching all over again for something that helps me control the anxiety. Then I have to take a deep breath and pick back up where I left off. If it helps me to meditate every day for the rest of my life, I'll take it. It is a small price to pay for the ability to stop feeling the way that I have for as long as I can remember. One thing that I will never do is give up. Anxiety can be severe or mild, long or short lived. Everyone is different, everyone affected by anxiety is affected in many different ways. Meditation is hopefully going to work for me to keep it at bay. If it comes roaring back after a week, a year, a decade, I will be ready to face it head on. It is scary and it is physically painful, but I would rather look in it's face and control it than let it control me.
About the Author: Sarah Surette
Contributor for Women's iLab
I am a stay at home mother of two spirited, young individuals. My days are filled with love, laughter and a desperate attempt to hold onto my sanity. I grow through writing and am building a blog in which I document my winnings, failings and everything in between. Happy reading!
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