anticipa-a-tion …. (I hope you’re humming that song now!)

This has always been a short path to anxiety for me. Anticipation of an upcoming flight. Anticipation of someone’s reaction. Anticipation of imminent death. Anticipation … fill in the blank.

Well, today is the day before a long trip. My husband and I, new empty-nesters, are heading out on a road trip. Our first ever. We’ll be gone about a month and will travel from Florida up through the Blue Ridge Mountains…up to Niagra Falls….up into Canada. Then north of Lake Huron and west to the Upper Peninsula and over into Minnesota and down the Mississippi River. Careful to avoid flooding etc.

We’ve had fun making some plans and leaving some days entirely plan-free. All home fronts are to be cared for by a variety of helpful people. The car is nearly packed.

Its 4 pm. Ahem. The car is packed. We don’t leave till tomorrow morning. Ahem. Now what?

See, the really interesting thing about this preparation is that I have NOT had anticipation anxiety. At all. I have not imagined the fiery car crashes, the bridges that will give way under us, the hotels felled by terrorist bombs or rogue earthquakes. Nope. I’ve stayed pretty much in the moment – which was to pack. To contact a hotel or box office. To fix lunch. Etc. Very reality based.

I hadn’t realized until just now, seeing how really little there is still to do, that I have not been running ragged or holding my breath. I don’t feel overwhelmed and I don’t feel… well, I don’t feel anxious.

I am starting to see what my various teachers and mentors mean when they say that serenity has a way of sneaking up on you. And so it has.

Holding to a steady meditation practice over the last two years has effected an enormous change in me! I use that term loosely because I don’t sit on a cushion in deep silence for hours on end. No, I do some active visualization, deep and focused breathing techniques and conscious present-moment awareness. I try to do this several times a day.

It may look like I’m not doing much. But, the balanced levels of serenity and excitement tell me otherwise. I have a whole different view of anticipation now!

It’s what I’m feeling about my trip!

While driving to work the other morning, I heard an interesting story on NPR about facial expressions. Researchers were trying to solve a simple question: why is it that all the world’s cultures share facial expressions? Fear always looks like fear. Disgust always looks like disgust. Anger always looks like anger.

One of the theories is that at your facial expressions are not just expressions of emotion, but that they serve a purpose. For example, when you become fearful, your eyes widen and your nostrils become larger. It’s as if your body is saying, “I sense danger. I need to take in more of my environment. I need to be more aware.” By widening the eyes, you see more. By opening the nostrils, you take in more air. It’s a physiological response to fear, and it’s a response that could save your life.

This has some significance for those of us living with chronic anxiety. It’s an important reminder that what we’re experiencing is a physiological response, not just an emotional one. When we have a panic attack, or a period of intense anxiety, we aren’t “just afraid.” Our bodies are actually responding to this stimuli physically.

So what does this mean?

Basically, your body is doing many things to prepare itself for danger. It’s increasing your respiratory rate. Your digestion will likely slow down (or, in severe cases, your bowels or bladder may empty as the body attempts to rid itself of unnecessary distractions like digestive activities). These are all normal responses to fear. But this also means that anxiety heightens your perception. Your eyes will be wider and your senses sharper.

It’s during times like this that we often notice strange things about our bodies. Maybe it’s a new lump. Is it a tumor? Maybe it’s a strange tickle in the throat? Oral cancer? Or maybe it’s just racing thoughts. Am I going insane? What you must always remember, however, is that the fear has affected your perception. You’ve become the panicky equivalent of the Million Dollar Man or Wonder Woman. You’re going to notice these things because your body is responding to the fear. Your body thinks that your increased perception may just save your life — and, if you were being chased by a pack of wolves, it actually might — but in our case, this heightened perception becomes a new source of fear. We interpret these as reasons to be afraid, not responses to fear.

So, the next time you’re in a state of panic and you think that you’ve discovered a new disease or disorder, just remember: you’re in no condition to judge your health when you’re under such stress.

I turn 50 in about six weeks. I’ve always enjoyed my milepost birthdays – and have used them as moments of reflection and gratitude. I’m glad to be growing up and to see what happens as the decades pile up. By the time I was 30 I had three daughters. When I turned 40 I had experienced some deep spiritual growth and was well on my way to recovery from Anxiety and Panic!

I am enjoying watching my children grow up; they seem to be getting more independent every day. All are in school or working and all are living independently. They are just about to wake up and realize that they, too, are growing up! 🙂

But I notice a new thought creeping into the periphery of my awareness. My age. Thoughts about the outer edge of it. I wonder things like “How much longer will I be able to do _____?” or “Who will help me when I can no longer _____?”

Right now I am tending to look at these thoughts like odd flowers that bloom in random places. They don’t seem to be coming from any truth-with-a-capital-T sort of place, nor are they attached to some beloved activity that I can no longer do. Having never been much of a mountain-climber I’m not having to give up that sport. No, these thoughts are mostly about much more mundane things, private even. Things like shaving my legs in the shower. Doing my own laundry (especially underthings).

So far, they are not worries. These thoughts do not bring me to my knees in Panic, and maybe they won’t.

But they are the heralds of a new age. They are subjects and concerns about which I have never thought before. I’m not sure I know what to do with them. Bring them up to someone older? Ask them in some anonymous advice column? Join the Senior Citizens Center in my town?

My experiences with Anxiety and Panic have shown me that the ability to stay detached from the thought – and yet hold it in my consciousness – is an important way to keep my sanity! I do not have to address actual issues of self-care and self-sufficiency today. I can be grateful for the things I can do and for my overall good health.

I can also learn about aging and take some broad-based actions that will help me and my family begin the conversations. This is a comforting thought, actually. There are things I can do, and things I can let go of: fretting being top among those!

So, I’ve sent in my membership registration for AARP and joined the mailing list for Elderhostel. WIth these two choices I have decided to learn from others who are a few steps ahead about what to expect. And, with the Elderhostel program, I can continue to learn new things, to travel and to explore the world around me – activities which have always brought me great joy!

And, I think I am declaring here that I will also try to blog periodically about the road I”m on. Just in case someone else out there in the world is also contemplating these things! It is always so helpful to learn that I am not alone.

I don’t know if anyone reading this blog watches “Brothers and Sisters”. My kids and I are quite addicted to it, and although it is all of the things that I am supposed to hate about TV, and TV drama especially, there is something about this show that keeps us all hooked. My children like to laugh at me and say that I am just like Nora, the mother on the show played by Sally Field. She is what you might call an over-involved mother – she keeps a close eye on all her children (she has 6 I think), interferes dreadfully, but I like to think that she loves them all unconditionally. When the kids laugh at her and say “you’re just like that mum” I do feel a bit defensive I must admit, and find myself saying “but she just loves her kids, what’s wrong with that?”

What I have realised lately is that loving my children goes without saying, but my level of worry about them is something quite different. I want to control any bad things that could possibly occur, and although I am completely aware that to grow and develop they have to experience everything that comes their way, I have realised that this control and worry is not about them it is about me.

I will do anything to stop the anxiety that builds and builds as I ponder and ruminate on the multitude of awful things that could befall them. I have learned that if I try and prevent anything bad happening to them, be it health, driving in cars, emotional entanglements and so on, that my anxiety lessens – but only for a while. There is always something new to worry about. My need to control is not about protecting them, it is about protecting me, and I have realised that I am giving myself all those old messages of “I won’t cope if….”, and teaching them that anxiety is a way of coping, when it’s not.
So, it’s time to stop all this. Out come all my old books and bits and pieces that I have collected over the years that have helped in the past. I am revising and relearning (again). I will get plenty of sleep, I will try and float past all these fears, and to realise that a certain amount of trust, self belief and belief in my children will help me get through this.

I’ve often had bouts of extreme anxiety while driving. It can really take me into a lot of fear and keep me from experiencing the freedoms in my life.

So, today I’m driving across my state. Alone. I’m excited about it and I am looking forward to it. I love my car, I have some great diversions (books on CD, music, etc) and I am very much looking forward to seeing my brother and his family.

It makes me pause, though, minutes before I take off. What if…..? And I won’t bore anyone with all the disasters that come to mind.

I try to use metaphors to understand my fears, and I do believe that the idea of moving, driving, going is part of the fears I have always associated with getting on with life. Being a solitary type of person, I’m more comfortable sitting in cozy spot with a book, or puttering in my very familiar home and feeding birds, or cleaning out a drawer of old discards. Moving into a totally new environment calls all that into question.

Not in any big, life-altering way. Just in a simple, nudging way. Life seems to say – hey, look at me! There’s more out here.

Once I get to where I’m going I love the experiences and the novelty. I have had wonderful travel experiences all over the world – and I would say that “I love to travel.”

And yet, at a cellular level – it is not me. So the more I am aware of who I am, and accept that, I will sense and know that I have an ambivalence about the process. The challenge. The journey.

For a while in my life – during paralytic panic – I just was afraid I’d die.

Now, I know it is more about a simple challenge, an encouraging challenge.

Setting it down in writing seems to help me cope with the fears a bit. I feel like I’m putting the fear into a context that doesn’t have to overwhelm me. I don’t have sweating palms or a headache or a racing heart — and for this I’m grateful.

And for now – I’m just setting off!

My experiences with Panic and Anxiety seem to loop between body and soul.

I often have a physical symptom – a pain, a lump, a soreness and it is then that Panic and Anxiety that develop a kind of net around it. A sort of web of thought and fear and feeling.

I then have a kind of knot. Symptom and anxiety tangled together and my thoughts get like a frenzied pair of hands yanking and pushing and probing and frustration mounts.

Then, on the really good days, a single silky thread leads to soul.

Breathing and meditation, slowness and space enter the picture.

I become aware of all the parts of my body that are okay. That feel really good. The blood flows smoothly and the lungs fill and release with seamless life. Small bits of space or light open up in the dark knot.

And the simplest, yet most profound, thought emerges from this soul place. It’s just a headache. Or it’s just a muscle cramp. Oh yeah.

I’m okay.

I’m fine.

This isn’t so much of a post as a query to see if anyone has had experience with this therapy (EMDT).  I know of therapists who use this procedure, but I am curious to hear if anyone has had experience of it themselves, and what the results have been like. 

I am kind of sceptical I must admit, but the brain certainly is an interesting organ, and mine certainly doesn’t always behave in a predictable manner!

 

I have been thinking about Fear and how it dominates our press and the affect this has on the anxious.

 

If you are an anxious person then you will be well acquainted with fear.  Any campaign designed to alert us to have a mammogram, (fear of cancer), wear our seatbelts (fear of crashing), be alert to strange unattached parcels in public places (fear of terrorism), eat the right food and exercise regularly (fear of obesity and/or death), recycle our rubbish (fear of global warming), get in stocks of canned food (fear of bird flu), use the correct moisturiser (fear of aging),  will no doubt succeed and send  the anxious out to get the next mammogram or buy out the local supermarket of canned goods.  I find myself avoiding this type of media activity as it feeds my fear, but then of course I fear that I am merely burying my head in the sand .  I can’t win!  I also wonder if the people that these types of campaigns are wanting to target ie those who don’t know about these issues, or don’t care – still don’t know or don’t care?  The only people watching and listening are the anxious (who know all about this stuff already…!)

 

So, how do I try and deal with this overload of fearful information?

  • I only listen to commercial radio in the mornings and save the “real” news for later in the day when I am awake and lucid.  Waking to endless bad news cannot be good for you.
  • I prefer to read the news rather than watch or listen.  I find TV news unbearable, it is designed for the few second sound bite, contains little information and a whole lot of fear.
  • I find talking about what I have heard is helpful. Hopefully someone will be able to challenge some of this information, and might put a different perspective on things.
  • If it all becomes too much I’ll turn everything off and have a news holiday and read a trashy book, or go to a feel good movie – anything that helps take me away from news and gloom overload.
  • Every now and then I will congratulate myself on the fact that I am a responsible person and doing the best that I can. 
  • Sometimes it helps to find out more information, and not just to take what I have heard or read about as gospel.  I believe that information can ease anxiety and help get things into perspective.  (Although you have to be careful with this one as this can lead to a certain obession which isn’t always helpful either).

It is of course important to be careful, to be alert and to be aware of our environment, our health and our political climate.  However, if like me, you are inclined towards the anxious then it is also important to look after yourself – it is all too easy to become overwhelmed.

I have become interested lately in the use of the term “Hypochondria” and have done a bit of trawling on the Internet to find out how we use this word.    I have noticed that a lot of the Blogs on this subject are funny.  You know – you go to the doctor with suspected ( and probably absolute) cancer/heart disease/ near death and find out that it is nothing to be concerned about, and everyone has a good laugh. 

 

Movies and TV also enjoy using hypochondria for a few quick laughs.  Woody Allen has made a specialty of it, there is the resident hypochondriac on the TV sitcom “Scrubs”, and even children’s animated movies have had a go, for example “Madagascar”. 

 

Now you may be thinking that I’m being just a bit overly serious, but I notice that I don’t use the term of  hypochondriac to describe myself, and  I prefer to say that I suffer from a “Health Anxiety”.  However, if a hypochondriac is someone who has an “abnormal anxiety about one’s health” (Oxford Concise Dictionary), then that’s me!  I’m wondering that if we continue to see a hypochondriac as someone to make fun of,  then it makes it even harder for sufferers to get the help and support that we all need.

 

In the end however, whatever term you use, the most important thing as always, is to get this help and support – only then can you regain a sense of humour!

 

I am having an interesting time of it at the moment observing my daughter struggle with anxiety.  I always knew that she got anxious, but now in her early 20’s she seems to be taking a similar path to her mother.  Her worries are different than mine, but they manifest themselves in the same way – obsession to the point of not being able to think of anything else, and then when one particular issue dies down, something else comes up to take it’s place.   

I ache for her, and I want to make it all go away.  I hate the thought that she is going down this path, and I feel guilty. Have I passed this on to her, was it the way I brought her up?  I’m scared that my constant worrying lead to her adopting similar behaviour, but I also know that hereditary factors come into it as well.  I know that I can’t solve this for her, but I desperately want her to learn some of the strategies that have helped me.  I border on becoming obsessed and over involved.  In short I am anxious!   

I remember being her age, how anxiety ruled my life, but having no idea what it was, that it was treatable and that other people suffered the same thing.  I felt alone and quite mad.  I try to tell myself that my honesty with her has enabled her to seek help and deal with this at a far earlier age, and that perhaps this will enable her to cope better than I did.  I also have to remind myself that she is not me – she won’t be feeling everything that I have, and she will find her own way.   

Have other people noticed this pattern in their families?  How do you deal with it, what helps? I would be really interested to hear your thoughts.

"Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it." -- Mark Twain

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