Anxiety has a way of knocking me to the ground in a very short span of time. I can be well-rested and having a marvelous day and then suddenly find myself in the throes of anxiety. The nagging circular worry, the helplessness of feeling urgency and hesitancy at the same time, the way my reasonable and emotional self war with each other hit in an instant and can quickly plummet my day.
I’m learning to live with this panic bird of anxiety thanks to therapy. Therapy this year has been marvelous. I’ve processed a great deal and made some changes in my parenting style, career goals and relationships with others. I have made many mistakes, but I’ve bounced back. Much of the bouncing back is due to employing tips and tricks learned in therapy to get me out of emotional anxious jams. I’m very proud that I haven’t self-injured in over a year and I haven’t had a compulsive binge episode since April.
There are three things I’ve learned in therapy that has helped me the most and I thought I’d share them here.
- Dialectical Thinking. My brain worries about making everything agree or placing items in a hierarchy, but that doesn’t always work. Often things can be both and exist side by side. For example, my reasonable mind will often point out the ridiculousness of my anxieties and depression, but my emotional self will still feel anxious and upset. That’s okay. I don’t need to berate myself (“you are stupid and ungrateful for being so worried about something dumb”) and I also don’t have to give into the emotional side by handling things with outbursts or self-injury. Instead I acknowledge that both things are true. Sure, a minor fender bender (that was Friday night) is no reason to be so scared and upset, but I am scared and upset. It is okay to be both. It is natural to exist in a constant state of flux between feeling and thought. One doesn’t need to win by the demise of the other. When I do this I am using my wise mind.
- Finding Gratitude. My friend Katie writes about this best and her words have echoed the wisdom of my therapist. Even in the worst moments there is an opportunity for gratitude. Persy Jane has had a rough month and a half of illness: three stomach bugs, an ear infection, and now a UTI. Schedules are disrupted, sleep is impaired, and then there is the helplessness of not being able to make my child well and watching her suffer (seriously, if you could hear her cry when she tries to use the bathroom your heart would break). Even in this I can find gratitude. Gratitude for medical insurance, my husband’s understanding professors, my teenager who pitches in without asking, for Atticus’s small concessions and kindness to his baby sister, for paid time off, for the moments spent with her little body curled up next to mine… these tiny moments don’t mean I enjoy the illnesses, but allows me the space to breathe and appreciate my life.
- Recognizing when I am skillful. The summer was rough. I wasn’t engaging in harmful behaviors, but I sure as hell wasn’t happy about it. I was restless and upset over not being “grown-up” enough to shake off the bad days. I felt like I could be more. One day I took to Facebook and spilled all of my worries and woes. Sam was at work, I was alone, and I was feeling terribly bleak to the point of self-harm. I spilled my guts and had so many kind messages from friends. It also opened the door for me to ask a friend to stay with me the next time Sam worked an evening. I also delayed making stupid decisions that would be harmful to me. I told myself to wait and kept myself busy with other things. When I confessed this awful evening to my therapist I thought I was the biggest failure. Pleading on social media for help, promising myself I would self-injure after caring for the kids and doing an extensive chore list; I felt so weak and silly. I mean, I shouldn’t be thinking this way…I am awful… what is wrong with me?! Instead my therapist pointed out that I was skillful. I recognized and identified my feelings, I asked for help, I employed delays, I observed, I slowed down, I used “all the tools” to keep me from harming myself and then the feeling passed. I did a great job. I was floored. I truly hadn’t thought of it that way. Now I acknowledge when I succeed.
The constant tearing down myself and thinking I will never be enough as a mom, wife, friend, or decent human is a tiny whisper now instead of the only loud voice I hear. The anxiety is still there and I’m learning that, much like my depression, it will show up in fits and starts. Accepting the dissonance between my reasonable mind and emotional mind, actively seeking ways I can be grateful for this life, and recognizing my own skills when battling anxiety and depression is keeping me well.
And for that, I am grateful.