Next week I am going to be the big 4-0. I’m sure like most people, I am astounded and a bit fearful of how 40 got here so quickly and also what it means for me. When I was 14 years old I had my first major panic attack. This was in the 90’s and the acceptance and normalcy around anxiety was absent. I began a life long journey with feeling, being and living anxious. I was put on medication and prescribed to go to the bookstore and buy some books about panic attacks. I lived in the dark and also in a hole of shame surrounding my anxiety for the next, roughly 20 years. When I got married at 30 I began intensive therapy because I knew it was affecting my relationship with the one man who loved me for exactly who I was. I knew I owed it to myself and also to our future to dig deep into the shame and face the unraveling of my past and also the truth about my future. I learned that I wasn’t alone and that millions suffer similarly to me. I learned techniques to help me when I panicked and I was dedicated to reading everything I could get my hands on about anxiety disorders. But as the years passed I still had the anxiety and the panic attacks still happened. I had gained tons of insight and had unmasked the fear—yet I could still forget it all in a moment when my heart starts pounding out of my chest, my palms start sweating and my vision blurs. All I can think in that moment is get me out of where ever I am or maybe, this is the time I really am going to implode into craziness.
A few years ago I decided that what I had been missing all along, the key to “curing” myself was spirituality. I had always tried to believe in “God”, the kind of God that is bigger than my understanding and maybe responsible for this giant world. I decided to take some classes at a non-denominational center for Spiritual Living in my town. I started to get really into it and I began doing some one on one sessions with a practitioner there. My insurance had run out long ago which meant so did my therapy. I was needing some guidance. The practitioner told me that I was choosing to have this anxiety. That I wasn’t ready to give it up and that I was benefiting from it in some way. This was a hard pill to swallow. As the months went on I began to feel so bad about myself because each time I went to a session I had to admit that I was still having anxiety, actually it had gotten worse. I felt like I had failed. My idea that God could save me from myself had been proven wrong or else worse, I just wasn’t strong enough to transcend it.
I got really angry and I decided that this practitioner was wrong and I began to feel very protective over my anxiety. I wasn’t making this up and how could she say I was choosing this? I would never choose to suffer like I had all my life. Anxiety has stolen so much from me: it took my dreams, changed my life course…or did it? I stepped back—took a time out in life. Maybe no one was right. I was exhausted from trying to change myself once again. Over my 20-some years with anxiety I have bought and read over 30 books including workbooks, workshops and programs on tape. I have tried meditation, medication, essential oils…the list goes on and here I am turning 40 and still I have anxiety.
A year ago my brother died suddenly at 41 years old. It changed my entire world, it began with an existential crisis and ended in an “Aha Moment”. One of my first thoughts when Trevor died was: What if I really lose it? I was terrified that I was going to unravel—that all I had worked for was going to be taken from me when my mental capacities could no longer function in the real world. I’d had a few intervention moments with my brother in regards to his alcoholism and they always ended with him denying he had a problem and me begging him to stop drinking because he couldn’t leave me in this world without him. I had a belief that I couldn’t do this life without him. In fact I had many beliefs that I couldn’t do a lot of things.
My Aha moment came a few months after he died. I was having a lot of anxiety at work. I kept telling myself that I was broken and I had no control over my anxiety. One particular day I allowed it to overcome me, I talked myself into leaving work without telling anyone. I was in tears with defeat and exhaustion. I was so embarrassed by my actions that I was shaken out of my anxiety. When my boss called to reprimand me I knew I was not being myself. In that moment I recalled a talk I had listened to with buddhist nun Pema Chodren. She recalled the last time she had felt lonely in her life. She was at a cabin with some friends and when they all left for the weekend she was alone. She began to feel uncomfortable and lonely. She began calling up friends and trying to comfort herself and yet she realized that the feeling was still there. She noted in that moment that only she could comfort herself, that it was an inside job.
I immediately knew that I had a choice. I could choose to stop falling apart in the name of grief and also anxiety. When the anxiety arises I can choose to believe it or I can believe another narrative that says I am perfectly safe. All of my life my mother has told me to just accept that I have anxiety. It used to make me angry because I felt that somehow I had been cheated and that I could find a way to get over it. My husband tells me the same thing. And now, so do I. At almost 40 I can tell you that most of our suffering comes from our resistance of accepting who we really are. I feel in the deepest pit of my heart that my brother could have gotten better if he could have just found his own Radical Acceptance and I wish I could have told him that. It’s another gift he’s given to me. I’m just beginning to really get to know my own acceptance and I still default into trying to “fix” myself or even worse, judging myself for not being without defect.
Recently I was on Facebook and I saw a quote that said something along the lines of: Don’t ask yourself what job you want next but instead, what kind of life you want to live. 40 looks like this to me: embracing my health by way of studying to be a yoga teacher, writing the truth and living each day in the spirit of Radical Acceptance. No more curing and no more fixing just 100% loving the life I was blessed to lead which means loving myself even if I have anxiety.Browse Front PageShare Your Idea
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