Sunday, February 8, 2009

Living with the Fears

I would love it if every post of mine could be inspirational and talk about how I overcame the anxiety of a situation. I would love it if I eventually found a surefire way to stop the anxiety dead in its tracks. Such is just not the case. There are times when even though I have done everything in my power to stop the fears, they still happen. I can't avoid them. Sometimes they are just there. Especially when I can't or chose not to take the medicine to stop the physical side of the anxiety, I know that I am going to have to live with it. Truth is, everyone has to live with theirs anyhow, mine just seems to be amplified more than most. So what do I do when the anxiety is just there?

I live with it. I remind myself of a couple of things in the moment. First of all, I remind myself that I am not going to die from these feelings. As uncomfortable and urgent as they do indeed feel, they are not going to kill me. Remembering that alone sometimes is calming, but not always. It is hard to have that feeling of "fight or flight" and not do anything about it. The "fight or flight" is designed to help get a person out of danger, usually harmful and potentially deadly danger. It is easy to believe that the feelings themselves herald some horrid disaster that is impending doom on me and those I love, but remembering that these fears are valid anxieties blown out of proportion by my disorder helps me keep the fears in check. I hate elevators and going on them, but panicking when it makes the slightest shudder is silly. Chances are, the elevator will open and everything will be fine.

This leads me to my second point on how to live with anxieties. I try to hold off the panic until I am in, or if I can manage, already passed the situation causing me my anxiety. Even though I recognize that getting anxious before an event is natural, even for those "normal (whoever they are) people", my "fight or flight" calls me to action before the event. I have to remember that I cannot act before the event because what I am fearful of might not even happen. Also, if I allow myself to panic before the event, I might not be able to act on the event itself, making the situation worse instead of better. There have been a couple of times at work where I have had to deal with a child who was a scraped knee or elbow. They are bleeding and I have a fear of blood. Panicking when I see them take the fall keeps me from taking care of them- something I need to be able to do to effectively do my job. If I can give myself permission to panic afterward, many times this gives me the strength to deal with the situation at the time that it presents itself.

This is the third way I deal with my anxieties. I allow myself the feelings. I don't chastise myself for having them. I don't shame myself until I can bury them deep. This is not my defining characteristic, but it is also very much a part of me. If I cannot panic in the moment, I need to give myself permission to fall apart later. Sometimes I do fall apart later. Sometimes, after the moment is over and I got through it, pride over the fact that I looked a fear in the face and overcame it keeps me from panicking and instead I am just darn proud of myself. Either way, I am allowed to fall apart for a bit after it, because if I don't give myself that permission, I invalidate the feelings I am having which is not helpful.

I would love to say that my anxiety is something that I overcame with willpower, prayer, and hard work. But, for whatever reason, God has chosen to give me this gift and I have it for the long-haul. I can't get rid of it. I can't deny it. I can find ways to live with it.