Happy New Year!
I've been wondering what to write lately. I thought I'd be bursting with prose after the workshop. The busyness of the holidays hasn't helped, either, but as I read recently, we all make time to do the things we really want to do. You know, like thinking - if only I could find time to keep my house clean and exercise as I plunk myself down to check email.
I think I've been avoiding fully processing what I took in that weekend and what I have to do from this point forward. I know I went in having an unrealistic expectation -- the hope that I would drive to North Carolina early that Saturday morning a person with an anxiety disorder and come home Sunday night cured for life. The truth is, as Dr. Wilson said, anxiety disorders span the life cycle - which means, much can be done to cope with anxiety and it's very treatable with the latest techniques & research, but it will always ebb and flow throughout our lives. That's not what I wanted to hear. He also emphasized that the best way to conquer anxiety is to choose to enter anxiety provoking situations on purpose; want to get anxious; want the symptoms to be intense; and want the symptoms to stick around for a long time. Basically, you've got to learn to love your anxiety. On top of that, you gotta drop all the crutches you use to protect yourself from feeling anxious and just feel it all .
I had a chance to practice this provocative approach when driving to my Mom's recently - a nice opportunity for regular practice. It was raining cats & dogs & sideways. I thought about taking the back roads, but picked up the girls from school and began driving on the highway toward my favorite bridges in West Point. Adrenaline surged, went away and came back again in concert with tired old thoughts and images of freaking out on the bridges. It's so easy to ride around in circles on those well worn thought grooves. I just kept chanting in my head, "I want it. I want it." I didn't employ my usual crutches of favorite music or engaging conversation - I simply expected the anxiety & tried my best to want it to come, be intense and stick around. I also tried to drop the need for certainty and just reassured myself with, "Whatever happens, I can handle it."
When I finally approached West Point, I saw the first bridge and crossed with no problem except for anticipating the bigger one. As I came up on the ascent of the second, the rain pounded against my car and, this may sound crazy, but I greeted my anxiety, like Reid suggested, and asked it to make my symptoms stronger ("Anxiety, I'm so glad you could meet me here! I need more adrenaline and pronto!"). I looked straight ahead, added the mantra "More" over and over again & remembered "I can handle this". It wasn't easy, but I did feel proud afterwards. A few months before, I wouldn't even consider driving over these bridges on a sunny day without my cell phone within reach and Stevie Wonder cranking on the stereo. And, now, here I was, crossing them with my 3 kids on a dark & stormy afternoon.
Ok, so maybe this work never gets easy. But whatever happens, I can handle it. And, if you're reading this and struggle with anxiety - you can handle it, too.
As we step into 2009, I invite you to look at what's holding you back in your life. How will you work with what ails you, whether it's anxiety or something else? Who will you share this with and who will walk by your side in community or as support?
This is the year to not let yourself off the hook. Don't spend another moment living a smaller life than you dreamed.
**Something fun & new for 2009 -- "Anxiety Gear" on Cafe Press. Let me know what you think!