I woke around 2:30 am, drenching in cold sweat, feeling a vague sense of panic, breathless, heart pounding…and anxious. I tossed and turned for some moments until I was awake enough to realize I was struggling with, rather than responding to, my feelings.

"Anxiety"  10" x 14" - and she feels much bigger than that, generally.

“Anxiety” 10″ x 14″ – and she feels much bigger than that, generally.

By the time an hour had passed by it was clear that self-compassion, reassurance, and a little meditation were not sufficient to put this particular anxious moment to rest. I got up for a few minutes and did some yoga (specifically a sequence of postures that are described as ‘calming’). I took a Benadryl (over-the-counter, fairly safe, and one of the oldest pharmaceutical anxiolytics). I got comfortable in bed, with some soft dim light, and read something light and entertaining for a few minutes. I got back to sleep.

I woke this morning, having slept in until past 7 am, anxious. Great. It’s going to be that holiday weekend, is it? I remind myself of two things as I head for my coffee: I overslept my usual timing on my thyroid medication, that can sometimes make me feel anxious, and anxiety is a liar.

  • My anxiety tells me ‘something is very wrong’. There isn’t anything actually wrong, based on observation of my environment and circumstances right now.
  • My anxiety tells me I have clearly done something terrible to feel this way. This is more a reflection of learned responses; as an anxious child, my parents reinforced the idea that anxiety is an indicator of unstated guilt. (Anxiety may or may not be associated with feeling guilty – it is a separate emotion, and correlation would not prove causation.)
  • My anxiety tells me I am ‘not good enough’ and backs that up with delusional ‘examples’ that ‘prove it’. (Taking a look at each offered example from another perspective derails the seeming factual nature of those arguments – but the anxiety exists; it is its own thing, requiring no ‘proof’, and refuting an example successfully doesn’t end the anxiety, it feeds it with attention.)
  • My anxiety reminds me that ‘time is running out’ – which, while true, is more about playing on a basic understanding of ‘how things work’ to terrorize me from within; what I do with my time is what sets the pace of my experience, not the sweeping second-hand on a clock.
  • My anxiety is a very physical experience that dissipates quickly if it can’t get a solid emotional foothold and a steady infusion of new chemistry; it will whisper anything it has to into my vulnerable consciousness to achieve emotional domination. Anxiety is a bad ass – but not to be counted on for truths.
  • My anxiety finds ways to put doubt, insecurity, and fear in my path; if I am consumed by those I stop questioning the anxiety and build it a home, instead.

Sometimes a bit of anxiety may be a healthy indicator that I am stepping outside my comfort zone in a positive way – that’s not what this morning is about. I am nauseated, and my body is enduring physical sensations I associate with imminent threats, terror, impending physical attack, terrible consequences, and future preventable loss followed by the dismay of others on a ‘how could you??’ level. It isn’t real. How am I so sure it isn’t real, when it feels so real? Because both thoughts and emotion lack substance until we give them substance. Emotions are physical experiences that manifest themselves both in physical and cognitive ways. Feelings. I feel. However, I am also able to make some sense of reality (in whatever limited way is available to me as a human primate with a complete set of common place senses and faculties) – and there is nothing in my environment that would cause this experience.

I am so human. Without question there are circumstances and experiences in my adult life that might cause some moment of mild anxiety…but this is not that. This experience qualifies as ‘disordered’, if for no other reason because it is very clearly and demonstrably not based in my real experience of now. Still, the small things that tend to drive small anxiety hop right into the ring with the Anxiety-with-a-capital-A of the morning; there is a chance that putting those to rest one by one may ease the Anxiety, but it isn’t a given, and is as likely to make things much worse if I become frantic or driven over it, by becoming invested in the outcome.

I am drenched in sweat. The apartment is a comfortable 72 degrees, and I am not exerting myself. Hormones? Still? Maybe – or just the anxiety, over coffee. Oh hell yes I am still having my morning coffee – with caffeine – in spite of the anxiety. Basic self-care demands it; the headache I’d be having later today if I don’t have my morning coffee would only put me at risk of being less able to continue to work through the anxiety if it lingers.

I have PTSD, and anxiety is part of my experience sometimes. I have a brain injury that results in executive function impairments – one of which is that I lack skill at managing strong emotions; I tend to put it all right out there, and find it difficult to ‘wrap things up’ in a timely way, sometimes remaining immersed in an emotional experience that is long behind me. These two things do not play nicely together. I write those simple words and tears start falling (I still find being quite so broken a sad thing, I mean, fuck – I’m 52 and still dealing with this bullshit!) – quite possibly the healthiest thing I could do for me right now are these honest tears – the science suggests that this will bring my cortisol level down more rapidly than most things I could do right now. Still sucks. I feel like a big cry baby (yeah, I hear the beratement and derision there, and recognize my demons on the war path, attacking me when I am vulnerable – it’s not helpful to treat myself callously right now).

I don’t like writing about anxiety…but if I were to omit this experience from my writing in a willful way, then I would also be a liar, leaving you thinking that somehow I had magically cured my anxiety issues with some sitting still, a few good books, and the occasional walk in the sunshine. It isn’t that easy. If it were, I wouldn’t be 52 and crying over my coffee because I am just that anxious on a lovely summer morning, utterly without cause. Writing about it, in a practical way, without ruminating over the details that my Anxiety would like to direct my focus to, seems helpful this morning; I am (after 1000 words or so) considerably less anxious now. Experience tells me it may surface again a few times over the course of the day or weekend, ready to become a weapon of mass distraction in some future interaction; today I will continue to take care of me.

Huh – there it is again. Is it my commitment to taking care of me this weekend that is actually causing the anxiety? Just now, as I considered taking yet another day focused completely on taking the best care of me, my anxiety shot through the roof… interesting. Am I still harboring feelings of guilt over putting me at the top of my agenda day-to-day? It’s a question worth considering some time.

Few things are more delightful than a leisurely morning over coffee with someone I love dearly.

Few things are more delightful than a leisurely morning over coffee with someone I love dearly.

…It is hours later now, about 2 and half hours actually. My writing was interrupted by the door bell. I checked through the peephole expecting someone canvasing the neighborhood for sales or prophet, and to my great delight my traveling partner was on the other side! We shared a leisurely morning coffee, catching up on small things, celebrating life, love, and enjoying each other’s company greatly. His is that rare presence that nearly always eases my anxiety, regardless of circumstances. I find myself on the other side of the anxiety, feeling comforted, safe, and assured that ‘all is well’. Good practices, trusting that the anxiety will pass, being frank about its appearance in my experience, and refraining from investing in holding on to it all help greatly – the addition of a pleasant intimate connection with another human being finished it off.

It’s a promising start to the day. I put on music, make a second coffee, and consider this pleasant moment. What could be worth more time, study, investment, or practice than Love and loving? 🙂