Living with Anxiety
I walk forward,
balancing pole in hand,
my writing and teaching
weighting each end
to keep me upright,
steady on this tight rope
of living scared
to fail to be
all I expect of me
I live life reaching
listening and forgetting
daring to recognize
the steps I know that
cheer my soul
when student eyes
or words flow freely
from pen and keyboard.
And then some chance breeze
Sends the rope swaying
And I am frozen
If there will be
A net below
Quacking I grasp
My weighted pole
To steady me again
My greatest fear is not to be enough – not to be caring enough, not to be brave enough, not to be smart enough or friendly enough. I fear not having enough time, expertise, patience. It doesn’t matter what it is, something inside of me sets the bar so high that I can only look at it wondering if I even dare try to jump high enough.
Too often I give in to this irrational expectation and retreat from trying by burying myself in books or repetitive games, distracting myself through forgetfulness or mundane tasks that had not been as important until I needed to remember to do something else. There is a part of me that will do whatever it takes to not risk finding out I might not be enough. I like to think I am hiding this sense of inadequacy but I don’t even think I am secretive enough. Being “enough” becomes a vicious taskmaster and that inside of me that knows it tries to defy the bondage such unrealism causes.
I have a near neighbor who loves it. Anxiety has lived next door for a long time now. She just loves stepping in when I get too close to one of those places I just might not be ‘enough’. She doesn’t even have to throw out the litany of failure anymore. Just the idea of being in a position where others might have expectations beyond what I have safely come to terms with in my routines can shout an open invitation for her ever “loving” presents to make the appearance and the vise tightens on stomach, chest and head while all the nerve endings fire across the surface of my body until the stimulation becomes so much my mind can’t think.
She used to have a room in the house of me. I hadn’t even realized how deeply she had settled in until life circumstances gave her the courage to take up residency on my living room couch right where she could put her nose into everything I was doing. It wasn’t a pleasant living situation. Even the joy of raking leaves and having neighbors join in conversation was enough to set her loudly chattering through my senses until I had to abandon the camaraderie and retreat into my solitary existence once more.
She didn’t win though. She isn’t going to win. Oh, sure, there are battles she has won. I still have places that I can’t go without her overly loud presence but the list of those places is getting shorter. It has taken time, willingness to use medication when necessary and the willingness to seek within for the roots behind the irrationality of anxiety’s influence to get her out of the house (Though I couldn’t seem to stop her from moving in next door). She seems to be getting the message though that she is not a welcome guest, or at least needs to constrain herself to being that more productive simmering of energy when performances require a more quicker firing of nerves.
Yesterday, she got back from vacation. A small, seemingly insignificant thing that I could rationally see as having the potential of being positive sent her running and yelling through my senses. The effect was so great that it affected other things I needed to do in my life. It didn’t help that I had asked not to be put in the situation but that a very well-meaning person put me there anyway. As long as I tried to push Anxiety away, her power got stronger and stronger. If I was to get back to the peace in my house, I needed to rehearse old strategies that had helped us get the distance we normally now had.
First, I had to invite her for tea.
Her unwelcome presence became less harmful when I accepted that my physical and mental reaction though seemingly irrational was real. It didn’t matter what that judgemental part of me was saying or even how others looked or spoke to me. Anxiety was there and was affecting my ability to function. By naming and claiming it, Anxiety quieted but still bombarded me with her presents.
Then I sang to her.
I remembered tips I give my students for quieting Anxiety’s chatter when it threatens to overwhelm and I practice my breathing for singing – let all the air out then take a big breath in, let it out slowly with a ssss to help control the breath, make the ssss last as long as possible, relax at the end, then do it again. The breathing slows, Anxiety is not getting the attention she wanted and quieted. Sometimes she even goes away. This time the silence didn’t last.
I didn’t shy from adding some actually repellent to our tea.
When I chose to use the support I had available to settle the physical symptoms I couldn’t settle in my head or through relaxation excercise, she stepped back a little more and began to stumble in her words. I had once needed up to four pills a day but on this day I used barely half a pill, and even that tired me when the overload of signals began to settle in my brain. It was worth it, though. I could think and focus again. I could move on with my day.
I had to do a bit of listening to find out some of the underlying reasons for her visit.
About half an hour later, her physical presents receded and I could look beyond the irrational of the anxiety and determine steps to take to quiet the trigger that had precipitated this not so friendly visit. Was it necessary that I be involved in the activity that I was not ready for? Was there another way to get what I needed without going that one extra step that invited Anxiety to come calling again? I was not afraid of the work involved and was fine with not getting the rewards that might have been possible. I turned down the part of the project that had raised the anxiety.
Empathize with others who are on her families visiting list.
The rest of the day, Anxiety stayed over in her own house, peeking out her window for opportunities, but not stepping into the day. Her recent visit gave me the empathy for students in my classes who also had frequent visits from the Anxiety family. Being able to share what was responsible to share of my story led to a softening of tense cheek muscles and tearful eyes becoming clear and focused again. In this way, I was able to bring something good out of what had felt like a bad experience. Each time I am reminded that my neighbor’s visits become a gift when I use them to help me understand these children, her power to overwhelm me diminishes that much more.
Open the doors and windows of your soul and enjoy living.
As the poem I wrote said, living this life where I want so much to be “enough” is like walking a tightrope always fearing the fall and the lack of a safety net below. But I do walk on, stopping to balance again at times, but stepping high and low, making my turns and kick steps until I can rest once more on the platform of acceptance knowing that it is enough to be As Much As I can be.
You know? I think I am going to make it. Maybe next time I will try the trapeze. I have always wondered how it would feel to soar.