As I walked to work this morning, I let the cold winter wind blanket my ungloved hands until my fingers ached and all but my knuckles turned pink. I needed the sharpness to focus on, the starkness to tug me away from the enticing, erratic drumming of my anxious heart.
It’s like there was a tiny, fragile, injured bird fluttering her wings inside my chest.
I spent the entirety of yesterday treading the line of a panic attack—the threat of its presence my constant companion.
There was a fog beneath the heaviness of my eyelids, and a restless, chaotic, jumbled vibration of energy moving within me.
I couldn’t read or watch TV. I felt overwhelming fatigue, but I couldn’t nap. I didn’t want to get on my mat or walk or stretch or run.
My hair was dirty, but the effort needed to take a hot shower felt daunting beyond what I was prepared to imagine.
I couldn’t sit in silence; the sound of the quiet was too deafening. I couldn’t meditate because I knew I’d spiral further into the black.
I wanted to carve my way out of my skin, but there was nowhere to go.
How do you claw your way out of a space you literally can’t escape?
Anxiety isn’t logical. We can’t reason or think our way out of it. Its causes are not always obvious, and even when they are—even when we know exactly why we’re feeling what we’re feeling—it doesn’t necessarily change anything. The energy is still there, pulsing with a life of its own.
Even if we understand that it’s all in our heads, whether the causes are profound or, ultimately, wildly insignificant, we still feel the pain and unease. The simple awareness of it, the knowledge of its origin, doesn’t necessarily alleviate any discomfort or suddenly make us feel less anxious.
Being in this state of mind feels unbearable, but somehow, we must bear it.
How can we feel the breadth of it, the expansive reach of it, without being consumed in it?
How can we gingerly, tenderly find a way to soften around the pain? How can we both resist the allure of exacerbating it, by diving into it, without resisting its existence? How can we touch it lightly, without falling further in?
We don’t want to ignore the anxious energy—I don’t think we could even if we wanted to, because when it’s holding us, its grip is too strong. Instead, we want to ease the intensity, loosen its grasp, and create enough separation so we can see that we can get through it.
If we can create just a little bit of distance, everything feels just a little bit less debilitating.
It’s there, circulating in our veins, so we must find a way to co-exist with it, allowing it to cloak us without burying us.
We have to figure out a way to cope, to transform the burden into something we can bear—to allow ourselves to feel the emotional torment, and the physical distress it yields, without succumbing to it completely.
In my low moments, I long for fresh air and the freeness that cradles me when I’m in nature; for the quelling effect of a hot shower, as water rushes over my body; for a phone call with my mom, because I know she will, unequivocally, understand every word, every sentiment I utter; for stretching, or simply sitting on my floor for hours in silence letting the energy course through me.
But just because I know what brings relief doesn’t mean that I always feel like doing it. Often, it feels like such an enormous effort to simply will myself to open my eyes and look around the room.
It’s a delicate balance between acknowledging how we’re feeling without dissolving into it, without losing ourselves in it, without allowing the pull of its power to sink us deeper into it; in being cognizant of it, while figuring out a way to force ourselves to do whatever it takes to not spiral further into it.
Yesterday, I forced myself to run. I showered and washed my hair. I put on makeup, perfume, and a dress.
As I walked to the Boston Opera House, I listened to the rain pattering the umbrella I held over my head and felt the cool water splash the tips of my fingers. I welcomed the feel of the cold, enlivening wind on my face.
In the theater, as I stood in line to walk to my seat, I felt fragile, like a shell of a person. My heart beat rapidly, and I felt like I could sense each of my individual cells quaking. My composure was on the verge of collapse.
I wasn’t great, or even good. I didn’t feel okay.
But I was there, and I was breathing.
It wasn’t good, but it was okay.
I’ve been here before.
With time, I knew this would pass.
It always does.
Author: Lisa Erickson
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton