Monday, February 23, 2009

Learning What You Can Do In the Moment

This morning really did start like any other morning. I got up and checked on the birds to make sure they were okay and then put them in their cages for the day. Then I started my morning routine. Certain things were a bit off for me, which later I discovered were a good thing. I had lots of things to bring with me to work so I packed up my bags a little early. This included making sure the bibs were ready to go (I get to wash them every week), so I had to also take my clothes out of the dryer and they were set out. This became very important to me in the near future. I finished up my shower and right as I turned off the water, the fire alarm went off. Not the smoke detector. The fire alarm. Those really fun things they have in my apartment building that ring like an old fashioned telephone except ten times louder. At first it took me completely by surprise, but it didn't take long to recognize what was going on. There was a fire and I needed to get out. I didn't think, I did what needed to be done. I couldn't go outside in a bathrobe at five degrees above. That would be almost as bad as staying in a fire since I was soaking wet. I looked around and smelled the air. I didn't smell or see smoke. It wasn't right upon me. I had enough time to get dressed. While I did my mind raced- what next? Out the door? Get the birds? I decided to try for the birds. Although I didn't want to admit it to myself, if they became difficult or got loose, I was going to have to leave them behind. I had one chance to get them out. I made my voice get very serious. I told them they were going into their carriers and there was to be no fighting me. There wasn't. I grabbed each bird, even the ones who never let me grab them, and thrust them into one of two carriers. Shoes untied and coat in hand, I spilled out my front door- to a car fire!

It was bad to, a space and a half away from my own car- which was to be my destination with the birds because that was the only place I could think of that would keep them warm. I checked with my neighbor, and the alarm had been pulled for the car fire, which was threatening the building by proximity, but the fire hadn't gotten out of control yet. So far, it was consuming the car and nothing else. I set the birds down just inside the apartment. The alarm might be loud, but it wouldn't kill them like the cold could. Then I stood outside and watched the car. Flames licked the ground and the windshield alike. Black smoke billowed out of the hood into the cold morning air. I hardly noticed that my hair had frozen solid. A loud pop followed by sparks made both my neighbors and I jump and thank the Lord for the snowbank that was catching the flying car parts and keeping them from hitting the building. The firetruck came and soon the brave men doused the fire while trying to keep their footing on the water beneath them turning to ice. The fire was out and the morning started to settle down to normal again. People returned to their lives with little more than a wondering eye at what happened.

I got to work but was late. I had called my boss when the firemen arrived to let her know I was going to be and she understood I would be in when I could. My car, though close to the burning car, was fine aside from a smoke smell. As for me, I handled a true emergency situation with calm and ease. I didn't panic, I didn't fall apart. I handled it and I handled it well. I got my family out safe (in my case, yes, it was the birds, but they are an important part of my life) and went from shower to ready for action in less than five minutes.

With anxiety, you always wonder what you'll do in the horrible situation you envision, but usually you never have to face it. Although it wasn't my apartment on fire, I thought it was, and now I really can move on with the knowledge that in the face of an emergency, I can handle it without my disorder even being a thought when I am in the thick of it. My GAD didn't paralyze me like I was scared it might. In fact, it didn't even come into the picture.

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.