“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” – Deepak Chopra
I remember the exact moment that I became afraid. I had been watching the soap Days of Our Lives with my sister & cousins. There was a character who became possessed by the Devil. I might have been 7 years old. Ever since that moment, fear & anxiety have become my lifelong companions.
Several years later I became obsessed with thinking I could be kidnapped. I requested to take a self-defense class in case this occurs. I discussed with my parents how they would handle the situation if I became abducted. My step-mom told me she would have the FBI knocking on every door. This didn’t soothe my fears.
Growing up I had a futon in my parent’s room. I had to commit to two hours sleeping in my own room until I was allowed to sneak in. The day before I went to a haunted house in the 7th grade, was the first time I had successfully slept the full night in my room. My dad noted this was precarious timing.
I struggle with sleep to this day and know that the association of the dark room – where my mind wanders – equals misery. Alone at night the thoughts go from distracting to full-on racing with my stomach in knots. Anxiety increases cortisol & adrenaline so not only can I not relax, I physiologically am wide awake.
I was 16 years old when I met with a psychologist. I explained that I have obsessed over the following topics throughout my life: potential abduction, a burglary, evil spirits, and becoming a gang member.
He was the first person in my life to say, “Oh, so you have anxiety.”
I had no idea there was a name for this condition. No one seemed to take the possibility seriously that I would get kidnapped or initiated into a gang. So I learned to keep these obsessions to myself. Thus began my career of masking anxiety. I mastered looking completely in control on the outside while fighting a war internally.
From the age of 16 to 23 years old, I had met with this psychologist on and off. He had mentioned that there was only so much he could assist with me in this state. That I may need to take medication…
Hearing that I might need medication did not jibe with my attempts to appear perfect. I would handle this anxiety like I had my whole life, just white-knuckle it. Dealing with it meant not sleeping & persistent dread for the future. It meant feeling exhausted was my normal.
Timing is everything – and when the student is ready, the teacher/teachings appear.
When I was 23 years old, I was so overwhelmed in life that I fully surrendered to help. I finally became open to medication because I knew, this was now unsustainable. I was not a person who eagerly wanted medications. Instead I felt the sting of failure & shame. I felt the stigma that surrounded taking pills. But after a few weeks on an antidepressant meant to treat anxiety, I also felt like myself for the first time. Like the person I was always trying to be but too preoccupied with crippling fear.
In many ways the willingness to take medications, opened my journey to healing.
During this time, my therapist recommended the book, The Wise Heart about Buddhist psychology. A few pages in and I was hooked. For the first time in my life, someone mentioned how suffering is a part of this human experience. For the first time in my life, someone mentioned that pain is inevitable. For the first time in my life, I felt normal.
The third divine intervention was yoga. I began practicing yoga as my life depended on it. They called this yoga room, the “torture chamber.” It was 110 degrees with 60% humidity. There were mirrors all around and I would often find myself crying on my mat. After hiding in the back of the room for months, a teacher demanded I get in the front row. She then demanded I look into my eyes and get to know the person staring back at me.
I write this post in another state of anxiety. In this state, I am worked up. Fear is running the show as I create all sorts of dire scenarios. My back is tense, my thoughts are racing, and I am consumed. Anxiety is a physical experience as much as a mental one. There is also a little hope…that tomorrow or even later today I will receive some relief. That I will snuggle my dogs and feel their calming energy. That I know I have cultivated a life full of resources. That despite the world feeling so incredibly scary, I am still here and I don’t need the FBI as a backup. Because I have my own army of people that would carry me to safety. That I might be a part of this coalition too, that I might be a Warrior.