You can’t experience life without feeling life. What I’ve learned is that being vulnerable to somebody you love is not a weakness, it’s a strength.”~Elisabeth Shue
I like to be the uplifting, positive, strong one. When Liv Lane asked us to write on our blogs about something that makes us feel vulnerable, it made me nervous.Yet I appreciate others who share the challenging parts of their journeys. When the pastor’s wife at church cried as she told how hard it had been to leave her home, her friends and family to move to a new church, it touched my heart.
So, here it goes. I’m taking a big breath and sharing something from my heart that makes me feel vulnerable.
Last summer I started having moments of intense anxiety and fear. As many of you know, we had a lot of family crisis over the last few years. I wrote about this on the blog post, Goodbye 2011. Finding Hope in the Challenges. The short version is three family deaths, my daughter’s depression and my Dad moving into a nursing home.
Ironically, my exhaustion and anxiety started after all of the crisis settled down and I was back home on the farm. I thought to myself, I just need time to rest. I kept clinging to that illusion of being the strong one, being Ok, being used to taking care of others. After a few months of resting and still feeling too exhausted to even go see my friends, I went to see my doctor. All the tests were fine but she suggested grief counseling. I cried through every therapy session. Even though I felt like I had cried a river over the last two years, apparently I was still holding a lot inside.
I also started having panic attacks. I didn’t want to admit this, even to the therapist. I am known as the angel lady. I believe in God, angels, goodness, divine timing, healing naturally, prayer, thinking positively. Why couldn’t I just get on top of this? One time I was driving and the sense of panic was so bad I started hyperventilating. It scared me and I finally decided to ask for help. Hmm, writing this makes me realize I have a lot of my Mom’s stubborn streak!
Yes, I wish I would have asked for help much, much earlier. It would have saved me many sleepness nights. The therapist actually laughed when I told her the story of Marie wanting to hang a shelf above her bed and I freaked out thinking it could fall and kill her in the night. The therapist asked, “Did you just think it, or did you say it out loud”. Yes I really said that out loud, and meant it. But anxiety isn’t rational.
The therapist shared some techniques to keep worry from escalating into panic. For me, the key was to start early, before anxiety really set in. If you worry even a little, try these out to see if it makes a difference.
1. Notice and describe your surroundings, in great detail wherever you are…sights, colors, textures, scents. This brings you into the present moment. We have all heard about living in the present, but I liked that this was a specific method. For example, when I was driving and starting to worry, to observe… “The sun is shining. The leaves are a lighter green than the grass. The breeze is making the leaves flutter gently. The pine tree is about a foot taller than the poplar tree next to it,…etc.”
Taking photos also created a similar effect for me. Noticing the intricate details of a flower would bring me out of my worries about the future and into the present moment.
2. Count your breath. Inhale, 1, 2, 3, 4. Exhale, 1, 2, 3 4. Put your hand on your stomach and take deep breaths, feeling your abdomen move in and out. This prevents hyperventilating.
3. Repeat something comforting. I would repeat the Lord’s prayer over and over. Especially at night when I couldn’t sleep.
4. Ask for help. Ok, this was a biggie for me. But in my state of exhaustion, my body didn’t give me a choice. I had to surrender and ask for help.
Now I had some new tools. It wasn’t easy. It took more therapy, lots of rest, time out in nature, asking for support from my family and even medication for awhile. Six months later I am glad I can look back at the gifts of the anxiety. And I am very grateful to be feeling better!
So, in case you struggle, are grieving, or worry too much, I share the lessons anxiety taught me:
- You have permission to ask for help.
- When a friend asks if you are Ok, you have permission to say “No, I am struggling today.”
- If a friend asks if you need anything, it is Ok to say “Yes, I do.”
- Breathe, just breathe.
- Focus on the present day, moments or seconds.
- You are not alone.
- There is always hope, even when it is hard to see.
- Don’t be too stubborn to ask for help ( My mom is probably laughing in heaven.)
- Lean on God, the angels, family and friends.
Thanks for listening to my story. Love from my heart to yours. Blessings, Nancy