Every year on my birthday I like to reflect back on the past year of my life and see what I have learned and how I have grown. I started a tradition years ago with my family that each year whoever’s birthday it was would share the most important thing that they learned in the past year. At first not everyone in my family was a fan of this new tradition, but as the years have passed it has come to grow on us and I think everyone actually looks forward to it. Sometimes the answers given are really deep and meaningful and sometimes the answers are more simple.
As my birthday approaches I am super excited to reflect back on this past year. I recently took a memoir writing class and the following piece was an assignment I wrote that I think will best explain this past year. It’s long, but I hope you enjoy:
Saying a Final Goodbye to My Anxiety
The sound of my children stirring over my baby monitor slowly enters my dreams, bringing me out of a deep sleep. I roll over and peek at my two beautiful daughters who are now calling for me. Excitement fills me. I realize that today is New Year’s Eve. I have never been so excited for a new year to begin as I am entering into 2013. 2012 has been a rough one and yet I am proud of what I have overcome in this year and what I have to look forward to in the future. After battling my anxiety and depression for almost 11 years following the death of my dear friend Nicole in 2001, I am finally able to see with a bit of clarity through this fog that has for so long filled my brain. It has been a long and exhausting road.
This was a year of hard triumphs for me. After putting myself in many uncomfortable situations as part of the recovery process, Long Island, where I live, was hit with Super Storm Sandy. On a personal level this storm tested my strength in more ways than one. My parent’s house on the water was devastated and my husband and I happily welcomed them, along with my 90 year old grandma into our home. This would be a time I will forever feel grateful to have had with my family, but none the less a difficult time. For about a week we were without electricity and I was caring for my 2 ½ year old, 1 year old and my grandmother, as my husband and parents went back to work. My days were very busy. At the end of November my grandmother passed, following a massive heart attack, leaving our family with aching hearts. December would start our month of sickness. The flu and stomach virus plagued my home and it would be a month before everyone was starting to feel better.
As I watch 2012 slip away I have never been as ready as I am now for a new beginning. For the first time in over a decade I am feeling optimistic about the future. I have this empowering feeling of “I can do this.” I am finally ready to let go and start fresh. I am ready to let go of my worrying. I am ready to let go of my fear. I am ready to say goodbye to my anxious self. This is going to be my year and I refuse to let anything stand in my way.
The New Year has been welcomed with open arms and much enthusiasm on my end. To be honest, I feel a little ridiculous with how good I feel. Despite my positive spirit I have a very familiar feeling that I can’t quite pinpoint lingering in the back of my mind. As the days pass on I try to ignore this feeling and stay focused on my weekly therapy sessions with Carol. I have been seeing Carol, who is a therapist trained in the Emotional Freeing Technique (EFT). I started going to her in 2008 in an attempt to deal with my anxiety, but it isn’t until this past year that I really feel as if I have allowed myself to begin the healing process. With my mind truly open I have been able to learn so much.
For years my mind has been filled with “what if” thoughts. What if something bad happens to me? What if something bad happens to someone I love? What if I never get over this anxiety? What if it’s not really anxiety and instead some mystery illness that the doctor’s have overlooked? What if I have a heart attack and leave my children without a mother? These thoughts consumed me to the point where I couldn’t focus on anything else but how I felt. In my recent sessions with Carol I have been able to really grab control of these thoughts, slowing them down and at times even stopping them altogether. It has felt really good to be able to control my mind, instead of my mind controlling me.
It is a Sunday night, late in January, and I am preparing for bed. I just finished cleaning up after having my sisters, along with their husbands and children over for dinner. We had a wonderful night. Everyone is healthy and the atmosphere between my family is not as grief stricken as it had been just a month before. The girls have already been tucked into their beds, dreaming their innocent dreams. I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, I will be visiting Carol. As I walk back into the den where my husband is sitting a wave of nausea suddenly overcomes me and I feel panicked to get myself into bed. I abruptly say good night to my husband and parents.
I rush into my bedroom, noticing that I am sweating as a tingling sensation creeps down my left arm. I hastily climb into bed and try to calm my mind. “Is this just my mind playing tricks on me or am I having a heart attack?” I am desperately trying to focus my thoughts and clear my mind the way Carol taught me. “To hell with what she taught me. What if I really am having a heart attack and I die because this will be the one time I don’t do anything about it?” I grab my phone and begin to open up Google. As the search engine is opening up I think about how no one suffering from anxiety should be allowed to use Google; but right now I don’t care. My thoughts are extremely irrational as I search the web for signs of a heart attack. I scroll down the list and realize that I have every single one of the signs. Every single one! My body starts shaking and I can’t stop. My mind is spinning and the only clear thought I can make out is, “I need to get help.”
I run out into the kitchen where my husband is talking with my parents. I immediately interrupt them and tell them what I am feeling. My husband is aware that my #1 fear is of having a heart attack so I don’t dare speak those words to him. Instead I list all of my symptoms as I shake uncontrollably. My parents look seriously concerned and that makes my mind race even faster. My husband calls 911 and an ambulance is sent. On the ride over to the hospital, with my husband following quickly behind in his car, all I can think about is my children waking up the next morning and having to be told that their mother is dead. The thought of how they will deal with this for the rest of their lives sickens me and only makes my symptoms worse. For the rest of their lives they are going to struggle with the loss of their mommy.
We arrive at the hospital, and after a series of tests and a couple of hours later, I am given a clean bill of health and sent on my way. Nothing is wrong with me. I was not having a heart attack. I am not sick. I am healthy as ever. During our ride back home a feeling of dread overcomes me as I come to understand what just happened. My mind was back in control. That familiar feeling that has been following me around was the feeling of uncertainty, and it has been waiting for an opportunity to sabotage my recovery. Tears trickle down my face and I realize that I am not really sure if I can conquer my anxiety once and for all.
Carol confirms my own thoughts in our session together the next morning. She explains to me how there is a part of my mind, the ego part, that is always looking to pull me down. The ego part of our mind is where our negative thoughts come from. It’s where our self doubt festers and grows. It is the voice in our heads that can create a fear so strong in us, it becomes debilitating. I have long been aware of my ego mind and the havoc that it can wreak, but this time I thought I had it under control.
Over the next hour Carol reassured me that I am going in the right direction and it will take practice and time to truly control my ego mind. She reminds me of my strength by using an analogy so beautiful it will forever be imprinted in my brain. She tells me that I am like a flower in the wind. The wind may bend me, but it will never break me. These words resonate in me for a moment before traveling down to my very core and settling into my soul. These words begin a fresh movement forward in my recovery. They were the inspiration I needed, the last bit of fuel to add to my fire. I can do this. I will overcome my anxiety.
A few days after my session with Carol I am sitting outside, lost in my own thoughts and for the first time that is not a bad thing. The sky is crystal blue, with a few scattered clouds. The breeze is light and cool and I watch as it gently blows the leaves through the trees. I am aware of the quietness of the day and the true beauty of all that surrounds me. It amazes me to think of how this quiet, mindful feeling has for so long terrified me. The quiet meant I could hear my own thoughts and those thoughts were only filled with anxiety and despair. They were ones I did not want to hear, but here on this new day I am welcoming my own thoughts. They are beautiful. My body and mind are at peace and it feels wonderful.
One of the biggest obstacles in my recovery has been myself. I was afraid to let go of my anxiety. I was afraid to let go of this feeling that I had become so accustomed to. This may sound strange to someone who doesn’t understand anxiety, but feeling good felt so foreign to me that anytime I started to feel joy or happiness it was always followed by panic and fear. I wasn’t use to the emotions and they made me feel as if something terrible was going to happen.
I have often compared myself to an innocent prisoner who has been released from jail after years of serving time. I would imagine that the years spent behind bars would be years spent longing to be free. The prisoner would imagine life on the outside, but for the time being all they know is life incarcerated. On the day of the prisoner’s release I could imagine that they would not only feel joy, but fear. They were now entering a world that they had so long been separated from. How would they handle the new found freedom? Would something else bad happen to them, bringing them back to that awful place?
For so long I have been a prisoner of my own mind. I have dreamt of freedom, but those dreams were always just that, dreams. For years I have been afraid to let go and embrace a new world and a new way of thinking. For almost a decade my fear of freedom overrode my desire to be free, but here I am a new person. This is 2013 and it is the year that I finally say goodbye to my anxious self.
It has been a great year 🙂
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