Now I realize the up and down, up and down is perhaps the greatest gift. If only from below rock bottom, sunken deeply in the sand, can you pull yourself out slowly at first – and then body part by body part, slowly shaking the sand out from everywhere. If only from high above can you look down and see someone ready to catch your fall if you soar a little too high. There’s balance.
I so, so, SO meant to write about waiting for my life to begin, and realizing it began long ago, and is both ancient and new – every day. Sometimes you realize you have everything you ever wanted, and more, and also nothing you originally thought you wanted – but the REAL is just that. Real. Aching. Tangible, touchable, kissable. It flies off the pages and out of your dreams, and gosh, it’s like I thought of this perfect world with no pain or illness, and certainly no anxiety, and life only moving in one way. Really, it’s circular and parallel and perpendicular and winding and curving, and I pictured these perfect people and jobs and things, but heck, the real ones are imperfect and gorgeous and just that. Real. Aching. Tangible, touchable, kissable. HERE.
They both shelter me and release me. And turn my world into vivid color. They drag me from the past and future into the NOW. They don’t even laugh when I admit that it took until my early 20s to realize I was (probably) never going to learn how to fly. And I mean fly like a superhero. It took me until my 30s to realize there were other ways to experience flying. Full-tilt, disoriented, dizzying, unsettling, and REAL. Aching. Tangible, touchable, kissable. Topsy turvy. HERE.
Do you remember how you felt when you first had your driver’s license hot off the presses? I crammed everything I needed to know in the “Six Hours Behind The Wheel” course in my last two months of being 16. I woke up on my 17th birthday with butterflies-turned-angry hornets, and I took that test darn well until I almost plowed through a stop sign at the end of the test.
Still, I passed. I don’t even know if the instructor saw me “almost” go through a stop sign. It was only almost and I had already succeeded. He was already writing the big “P” for Pass on my file.
With my license and with a big ole tan Buick Century my brother inherited in our great-aunt’s will but wouldn’t be able to use for another year, I was good to go. My maiden voyage was to my favorite diner. I don’t know how my parents could let me out like that – with only two months of practiced driving under my belt. Still, they did. It felt like how I imagine it feels to fly. Mobility.
I thought I’d never feel such specific, related feelings of freedom ever again, until I worked through fairly severe anxiety recently. When I first wrote these words, it had only happened a handful of times, but these days I have more anxious times under my belt. They are churned out like a conveyor belt and I wonder if I’ll ever be the person I used to be – with many more times of dormancy. Years of it. Or this is the new me – trying to catch up to it. It’s like my friend Echo said earlier this week – “..it’s so freakin hard, when the best things you have trigger you the most.”
There had been times in my life of debilitating situational anxiety but they never lasted. Then came a time in which I couldn’t will it away. I became a parent and my kid got hurt when she was a baby. I didn’t recover from it like I always had other times. I was often nauseous. Antisocial. Idle. Not daydreaming. I felt like I had clamps around my lungs and I couldn’t fully breathe.
It was a long overdue buildup – a pile-up of new and old situations. Post-traumatic stress from childhood tragedy. Transitions into marriage and motherhood. An unease with changes of any kind – maybe caused by my father’s sudden death when I was four. Maybe I was born this way. Thick, suffocating anxiety. I agonized over both obvious and hidden triggers to anxiety attacks.
If and how I would cope with the frequent anxiety attacks. If I could learn to stop them in their tracks, and eventually prevent them completely after a simple trigger or warning sign. My realistic goal would be to have larger periods of time between them, if I couldn’t get rid of them completely and forever. What was most important would be to live my life without having to think about every little thing I could do. Large crowds and parties were nearly impossible.
Running through sprinklers and getting ice cream in our pajamas and going on last minute road trips? Impossible, or so I thought. Plane trips, public speaking, wild late nights, crowded, sweaty concerts, spontaneity, open minds, and open hearts? Impossible. Or so I thought.
The anxiety would not just creep up, if I stepped out of line of my plan of laying low and saying no. Of hiding out and turning in. Rather, the anxiety would be a roaring whoosh inside my ears and a weight on my heart. I felt heavy. I felt weighed down. And I felt positively ancient.
There was no magic switch, obviously. And there still isn’t one. Rather, relief and healing come slowly and peacefully like a wave as I break apart and deal with various pains and fears. One by one, like an arsenal of tools in my belt. Bettering myself with my strongest weapons. Learning to fly, at least now with two children and a rough couple of years gone by, and most importantly – picking myself back up after I inevitably crash or stumble again. It gets easier. It really does.
And so. I call my mom or a good friend when I need to cry. I occasionally use herbal sprays or oils, or other herbal anxiety pills that may be placebo and may be real. And I write more and photograph more. You may have noticed this. I get a lot of kid hugs, and husband hugs when I am feeling ready enough to talk to him more. I answer to each and every kid and pet call. The anxiety makes me angry that during the worst of times it has separated me from this:
Friends are lifesavers, even though anxiety has taken me from them. I exercise in some way – chasing kids, hiking, walking to the mailbox. I take deep breaths into my stomach, just for the heck of it, or when I feel rising signs of anxiety. Also, I say self-written affirmations aloud.
And lastly, when I felt I couldn’t do it on my own and with the help of my friends and family, I got help. In my case, a post-traumatic stress therapy called EMDR. I don’t have all the answers, and I never will, and I can’t claim to be an expert at anything except what is best for my family.
Feeling weighted down by pain and fear and anxiety was the answer for me for so long because I allowed it. I want my days to feel like flying. There are extremely scary take-offs, and turbulence and bumpy landings, of course, but the freedom I feel from working through pain and fear?
It’s been years since I started treatment. Getting through the hard times makes me stronger for the next one. Sometimes it comes back stronger and more forceful, and that’s ok. I do too. I will probably always be somewhat challenged throughout life – that’s just who I am – but it’s nice to have a tool belt of steps to take when it gets overwhelming. It’s not 100% and I still have reactions to small (or large) things but there’s a difference between suffering and managing.
Managing turns into thriving. Thriving is mobility. Mobility is possibility. Possibility feels like flying. Just like with my driver’s license, this way of living just doesn’t get old. It never will.
I won’t spend much time watching clocks and squeezing pressure points on my wrists for nausea relief. I will play and run and soar and I won’t think hard before saying “yes” to all of it. To you. It will never be perfect and it may always be just a touch or staggeringly hard. That’s life.
*I wrote this, not for the blog, six years ago which explains the dated words and photos, but boy – so much of it still applies. And so much of it gives me that flying feeling all over again.
**And I added a few thoughts and fixed some sentences and the Echo quote was recent!
I’m linking up with Finish The Sentence Friday for another great prompt. This week’s topic is “I used to think… (but no longer do)…” And there’s still time to write yours. Link up HERE.