This morning I woke with anxiety riding shotgun. I woke early, and abruptly, feeling unable to take a breath. In the face of imminent panic, I managed to grab hold of the nearest practice – in this case, simply breathing – and focused on that, instead of the anxiety.

“Anxiety” 10″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic 2011

“Anxiety” 10″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic 2011

With the first deep breath, in and then slowly out, I observed the quiet environment, and the lack of immediate threats to my safety or wellness.

With the second, I observed my own body and state of being, finding and gently letting go of tension, then self-soothing by improving my posture, and comforting myself with reminders to be present, now, and letting the safety and comfort of the moment soak into my awareness more fully.

With the third breath I acknowledged Anxiety traveling with me this morning, and instead of panic, I gave myself a mental pat on the back for dealing with her – and my PTSD – so well these past couple days.  I took a moment to refresh my understanding that my TBI sometimes prevents my chemistry from appropriately returning to baseline because the inhibition/disinhibition circuitry – and other executive functions – are impaired; this too will pass, but it may take longer than I’d like, and I’ll probably have to help it along.

By the time I complete 5 deep cleansing breaths, my heart stopped pounding, and the surreal terror eased. Was it something in my dreams that woke me so badly? It hardly matters. I am okay, and a new day is beginning. I anticipate the anxiety may come and go today, as it eases over hours without new stimuli. I smile realizing that it feels almost natural… almost easy… to take care of me in the face of my anxiety. It is quite deliberate, very structured, almost ritualistic, extremely practiced, and in no way ‘natural’ or ‘easy’ – but it is lovely that it feels that it easy, and that’s more than enough to bring a smile to my face, this morning as I sit with my coffee, quite alone, and recognizing anxiety as merely an emotion, rather than envisioning it as some powerful super-being capable of destroying worlds.

The tools and practices I have invested so much time and study in really do make a difference. Using SuperBetter regularly helps me stay focused on practicing good self-care practices, and reminds me of all the variety there is in self-care tools and skills, and in creative ways to break problem patterns of thinking and behavior. Directing entertainment consumption towards the educational (TED Talks, SciShow…) has proven helpful, too; the brain is a sort of ‘use it or lose it’ tool, itself, and the sharpest elders I know are people who continue learning well into their elder years as a lifelong passion.

…And then there’s love.  I don’t want to overlook or underestimate the value of supportive relationships, emotional nurturing by loved ones, the comfort in someone listening, or the emotional safety in being accepted and loved – exactly as I am.  Being loved is a bit like buried pirate treasure, though; even though I suspected it might be ‘out there’, and even with a map that had a spot marked ‘X’ to point the way, it took some searching and some persistence, mostly because I did not understand that the love I most yearned for above all others needed to come from me, and until I found my way to that safe haven, no searching would ever turn up the pirate treasure of romantic love in the arms of another (because, even if someone loved me that much, in that way, I would struggle to recognize and feel it, having no similar feeling about myself).

It’s a lovely morning, and a good day to tell anxiety to take a hike – I will choose, instead, to walk with love, deliberately and willfully. Today is a good day to practice good practices, and to take care of me. Today is a good day to enjoy what works, and improve on what doesn’t work so well. Today is a good day to change the way I deal with my world.