It’s another hard day. My hands are shaky. I’ve had one cup of coffee and no sugar today. My head hurts and my chest feels….well, it’s hard to explain. It feels shallow. It feels like a deep breath is impossible. It doesn’t hurt to breathe like it sometimes can. And I feel like crying. All the time.
It’s been 3 weeks since the Boston bombings. I’m sitting in a café in Kansas, 1600 miles away. I’m safe. It’s not even about laying out the facts to convince myself. I don’t feel threatened. And yet I’m terrified. To everyone around me I probably look fine. I’m dressed appropriately. I act appropriately. But I don’t feel right.
Last week after months of not feeling anything strange, my anxiety symptoms came back. In fuller force than I’ve felt them in a long time. In a really scary way. Three weeks ago I was in Boston. I was there for two weeks. I was downtown the day after the bombings. I was supposed to be in Cambridge the night the MIT officer was killed. I was there for the lockdown. I was in Cambridge the next day. But at the time I wasn’t scared. I went own to Boyleston St. the day they cleared away the flowers and running shoes to reopen the street. It was quiet. I wasn’t scared. I was sad.
And while I was in Boston I started working on the Yoga for Anxiety Workshop I’m teaching Saturday morning here in Kansas. I’d planned it a month previous, but it was time to start sequencing poses and planning the morning. And I wasn’t scared.
A week ago I got scared. I got terribly, terribly scared. I stayed in bed for days. I only talked to my family. I didn’t go out of the house. I got a migraine and I cancelled
All this years after being diagnosed with anxiety. All this years after teaching and helping people get off their anxiety drugs using yoga to manage moods. All this after intense therapy last year to learn new tools. All this is the face of anxiety. Debilitating, terrifying, frustrating and, well, embarrassing. Because I’m supposed to do better. I’m supposed to know better. I’m supposed to be able to heal.
And that’s what anxiety loves. The supposed tos. Anxiety, at least for me, always sneaks up when you least expect it. It’s the fun for it. It’s like the older brother who jumps out of the darkened stairwell. If you don’t scream and run crying to mom, it’s not fun for him. That’s how anxiety feels. Oh, and insomnia. Horrible insomnia is another fun trick. When I’m with my love I can sleep, but when I’m alone anxiety likes to crawl in bed with me shielding me from slumber.
And when I do sleep? Anxiety likes to whisper scary thoughts in my ear until I have nightmares. The other night I had a bread dream. Like an alcoholic who has drunk dreams, I am gluten-free and had a bread dream. Loaves and loves of crusty baguettes and boules and demi-baguettes,
bagels and rolls covered in sesame seeds, poppy seeds and filled with kalamata olives. I woke craving bread, which for me affects my moods. Makes me edgy and depressed.
Anxiety is like a lover who knows me better than I know myself. A lover I can never divorce or run away from. Anxiety is with me, so the work is to accept and embrace it. The work is to take each day by itself and do what I know to do.
So when it’s 2am and I hear anxiety’s whisperings I do my my favorite twist without even getting out of bed. I bring my right knee into my chest and rolling onto my left side take the knee across the body. I open my arms wide and turn my face to the left and I breath. Sometimes I even fall asleep like this. Sometimes I do both sides twice before I can fall asleep, but it always helps.
When I’m walking through my day and life feels like too much I remind myself to slow down. I breathe slowly and as deeply as I can, In through the nose, out through the nose. Over and over until my heart stops racing and the breathing stops being ragged. When I don’t feel like the world is safe or welcoming a forward fold, turning in on myself, is soothing, but can also be in impetus for more movement on or off the mat. Cause whatever I do on the mat is going to directly translate off the mat. And when I absolutely can’t do anything else, child’s pose can save me. It’s comforting and reminds me that everything is going to be okay.
And speaking of walking. I walk wherever I can. Exercise can make all the difference. It quiets my brain and loosens my tense muscles. It can change my brain chemistry.
The thing that I’ve learned after 13 years of teaching yoga is that it’s never perfect. It’s not supposed to be. I can go months without an anxiety symptom And part of that is because of the practice. It’s because of my diet choices. It’s because of walking and meditating and family support. And I do these things because I’d rather do these things than be medicated. I’ve been there. I’ve been medicated, but for me the side effects weren’t worth it. The tools yoga has taught me were better choices for me.
Every time, though, that I think I’ve got it licked, every time I think I’m cured it comes back, reminding me that getting through a good day is licking it. Because there is no cure. I will always deal with stress differently than most people, so it’s important for me to be vigilant. These days it takes the bigger life events-like the Boston bombings than it used to. It used to be lots of little
things could make me feel shaky and panicky. There has been much progress. And that’s an accomplishment.
Being on the mat day after day, year after year has taught me there’s no perfect. But most days there’s pretty good. And’s that’s an accomplishment.