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How do I Deal With Subconscious Anxiety?

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Photo by Paul Neil on Unsplash

When I was a kid I had vivid and crazy dreams, and when I was under stress I had the most frightening nightmares. It’s been a long time since I had a real nightmare, but this week has brought me a good one.

I was asleep.

Of course, you were!

No, I mean I was asleep in my dream, snuggled down in my bed next to my lightly (this time) snoring husband, feather blanket pulled up around me, teddy bear tucked under my arm. Don’t start with me about Edward Tiberius. He’s not going anywhere and you can’t shame me. I have a right to sleep however I feel most comfortable!

I was sleeping soundly when an alarm clock went off and woke me up (in my dream). I couldn’t figure out what the noise was at first. We have an alarm clock in our bedroom but we’ve never used it. I looked around in confusion until I saw the clock lying on the bathroom floor.

Now, I’m not aware I’m dreaming at this point. I just think it’s rather odd to be jarred awake by an alarm clock we never set laying on the bathroom floor where we do not keep it. I casually pull my blankets back and swing my feet out onto the floor. It’s cold.

I stand in my pajamas and take the two or three steps toward the door of my bathroom. It’s one of those pocket ones, you know? The door pulls shut out of a pocket in the wall. It’s to save space and it does. I can have my laundry basket just inside and the door doesn’t swing into it and mar the old wooden dresser that sits beside it.

I’m standing in the doorway, annoyed by the braying sound of the alarm, but when I reach down to the floor to pick it up, the door quickly slides shut on my arm, trapping me. The light wood of the door shocks me but doesn’t hurt. In typical dreamlike fashion, I’m not scared by it, just confused, but when I try to open it and pull my arm out, it shuts harder and I can’t escape.

Now I’m scared. I turn away from it and call to my sleeping husband across the room. In reality, this man sleeps like the dead. I’m certain nothing will wake him. I’m envious of it. In my dream, I call him over and over again, yelling at him to wake up and help me but he doesn’t budge.

I turn to the door and try again to pull my arm out, the alarm blaring on, but it’s no use. I am stuck and trying to force my arm out is starting to hurt. I keep struggling to get free and calling for help but no one came.

I was crying when I woke up but the feeling didn’t stick and in a few moments, I was falling asleep again hoping I’d remember the dream so I could retell it in the morning.

You have probably already noticed that this was clearly an anxiety dream. I’ve always had them. My dreams typically center around no one coming to help, calling 911 and nothing happens or trying to tell someone something important only to have them turn away or not recognize me. They are always unsettling. Having them again reminds me that I’m struggling now. From the outside, maybe it seems I have my shit together, I may even be fooling myself about my state of mind, but my dreams tell me something different. It’s like a window to a part of me I close off.

We all know where the anxiety is coming from right now and we’re all dealing with it in our own ways. I’m not sure how I’m dealing with it really. One moment I’m a practiced Stoic, like Spock in a crisis. In the next, I’m a blubbering mess and need a hug.

Side note: I meant to type “need a hug” but “need a gun” is what came out. Subconscious slip? Maybe.

I’ve learned over the last twenty years that the best thing to do is wait and see what happens. Making decisions from a panicked state of mind never ends well. It’s not my nature though. I like routine. I feel more comfortable knowing what next week will most likely bring. This “wait and see” shit is not my cup of tea.

My dreams reflect my desire for someone to help me, fix it for me, and return things to normal. I know that won’t happen. I panicked in my dream the same way I feel like I’m holding back panic in real life. If I could dream it again, I’d take a breath and think about what was happening. Nothing was hurting. I was only surprised and scared. I didn’t need help. I could have fixed it myself.

In my meditation tonight, I’ll go back to it and do it again. I’ll visualize the same scene but this time, instead of panicking, I’ll take a deep breath and see what the problem is. I’ll look to my sleeping husband and use his calm state of mind. I’ll push the door back open, pick up the clock and stop the alarm. I’ll set it back on the shelf where it belongs and get back in my bed.

Regardless of what happens, the trick is not to panic. There’s always a way to respond, even if it changes nothing about the situation, it will change me and that’s all I have control over.

Lean In To Fear

I checked my email just before dinner last night and there was a cool message (seeming directly at me at that very moment) from Zen Habits.

“What if we could fall in love with the way things are, in this moment?

Try it right now: notice what you’re resisting, what you don’t want about this moment. Maybe it’s stress, maybe it’s uncertainty, maybe it’s pain or anger.

See if you can turn towards it, open up to it, maybe find gratitude about it.  See if you can love it, even a little. Maybe a lot.”

What was I resisting at the moment? What is it that I fear most? Loneliness. Abandonment. When I begin to feel it, even the slightest tremor and react as if I’m being tortured. I reach out to grab something. I text, I call, I scroll through social media. If a text isn’t answered I begin to panic, contriving multiple scenarios about why it isn’t being answered, and in an effort to control the situation, I start a battle that usually ends either with me begging to be forgiven or the other party walking away from the crazy person.

I realized a few years ago that it’s an attention tactic, starting battles with people I love, and that fear triggers it. Yesterday was the first time I leaned into that fear, faced it, and let it wash over me successfully. It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t plan on doing it. Several things just happened to fall into place at the right moment. And now I find myself sitting here wondering if I can do it again. I want a reminder to look at, something that says “lean in to fear” maybe. Something to remind me that it’s just an emotion and I can survive it. I’ve done it before.

I started test it today. Instead of my typical behavior of texting or scrolling through my Facebook and Instagram feeds when I’m bored, I’m taking a deep breath and naming the fear.

“There is that feeling that fear. I’m alone in this room, but not in the world. And even if I was, so what? I won’t die.”  And then I’m going for a walk, reading a book, working in the yard, or cleaning my house. I’m setting a timer for thirty minutes and doing something even if I might not finish it.

It seems to be working. But I’ve been wrong before. I’ll be wrong again, I’m sure.

The strangest part is that when I am alone, I enjoy it. I was raised in a busy house. I grew up in the city. I worked at amusement parks. I have loving parents, a doting husband, and children that love me. I crave being alone in a room with no one interrupting, responsibilities set aside, only myself to cater to. When the opportunity to be alone presents itself, I jump at it…as long as I have something to do while I’m alone. Drive for hours? Clean the house? Write a blog post? Sure! In the past, working alone was always nice. I could play the music I wanted to hear, focus on my task, get a lot of work done. It always felt good.

The alone I fear is in my head. It’s not being physically alone. It’s the feeling of loneliness, the feeling that no one is out there, no one understands me, or wants to know me. It’s that lack of connection I fear and the reason that social media has been so attractive to me. It’s an instant gratification when that feeling lurks in the back of my mind. At any moment I can go there and “like” and comment. I can post a cat picture and get a response. See? There are people out there. They see me. But it isn’t connection, not really. It’s a false sense of security and it’s become an addiction and a new source of anxiety for me.

It’s not inherently unhealthy. Facebook has been an incredible source of entertainment for me over the years. I’ve made new friends, found old ones, and gotten to know people I would have believed lost forever. Lately though, when I consider walking away, I have panic attacks. If I’m not posting, if I’m not getting likes, if I’m not sharing what I love and what I’m doing, am I really alive? Am I still here? There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t share something. I don’t read articles and think, wow, that was interesting and informative. Instead I think, I need to share this on my wall so everyone can see it. Only sharing can validate my experience, give me the feedback that makes me feel better. If I’m reading a paper magazine (yes, they still exist) I feel like I’m missing out because I can’t share it.

I’ve never been one to cut things completely out of my life. I’m a moderation type of gal, one that likes to work to keep the good parts and overlook the bad, use the positive aspects and leave the negatives on the floor beside the trash can.

There are things I very much enjoy there, and I don’t want to lose those. I think I’ll experiment right now in creating new habits that add so more joy to my life that the negatives get pushed out. What can I do? You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Spend less time on social media by doing something else.

I’ve taken the buttons down from my main screen so that I have to search them out instead of habitually click. That’s step one. I’ve uninstalled them before. Doing so just caused me more problems than it solved. I am a writer and the world does operate on social media these days. I need to use it, not run and hide in the hills. If my fingers can’t automatically click the icon from my phone’s main screen, it creates a pause between the thought and the action. It works for me.

Step two is to create times when I do see what’s up on my feeds. Over lunch was perfect for me today. I munch on my sandwich while I scroll thru and laugh at all the silliness my friends and family post and then I put it away until dinner time. While I cook dinner will be another time I catch up and then put it away again.

I think that’s enough to work on for one week, don’t you? I wish I knew where this fear came from, but I doubt it would really help anything to drag that out. I don’t care how I got into the ditch; I just need to find a way out of it so I can get moving again.

I wrote a “post-it” reminder and stuck it to my computer and I think I’ll write another and keep it in my pocket all week. I’ll check back in with you guys in a week and tell you how it’s going!

Study Doesn’t Make You Fearless

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Photo by Bram. on Unsplash

I’ve uttered it myself.

“There are a lot of smart people that believe…”

“Smarter people than me have studied this and they believe…”

But something occurred to me this morning. Intelligence and study alone do not free anyone from fear.

Humans are naturally fearful. It’s what has kept us alive in the past. We’re born into this world terrified. Screaming and afraid, we are comforted by those that are tasked with caring for us. From the people around us, we slowly and steadily learn that there is some love and safety in this world, hopefully. We learn about friends, puppies, tacos, and Disneyland.

Fear is still our instinct and what we learn about this world helps us navigate it safely. Things do come along to change our minds though. We thought that person was safe but learned otherwise. We thought we could trust that doctor. We thought cookies were a great breakfast. We learn as we go.

The biggest fear is something that happens to every single one of us, death and what comes after. We can speculate, but we cannot know for sure and that generates a metric crap-ton of fear. In response, we grab on to ideas, religions, spiritual guidance, and study the past thinkers as much as we possibly can. Once we get an idea that soothes us, we hold it in a death grip (pun intended).

We can’t abolish fear from our lives, but we can be aware of it and how it affects our thinking. I don’t know what will happen. I can’t know. Instead of holding on to my imaginary life raft, I let it go and live the experience. I talk to others. I love all I can. I accept other people’s points of view as theirs alone.

I personally find comfort in knowing deep down that I’m not alone, there is no one on earth that knows for sure what will happen. Instead of hiding from fear, I acknowledge it.

“There you are fear. How are you doing today? Do you need a cookie? Let’s go for a walk together.”

Held Captive by the Writing on the Wall

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Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash

“D.D.S.R.”

The letters stood out black and heavy on the clean white wall of her cell. She sat there before them, cross-legged, and puzzled.

How long had she been here, she couldn’t say, but she did remember when they arrived to take her. She could still hear the doorbell ring. She flew, freshly showered and barefoot, to the door only to find three men in black suits instead of the friend she expected.

These are no salesmen, she thought, immediately trying to close the door and blot out the vision before her. Before she could get the door closed and latched, a heavy arm clothed in black polyester reached though and stopped it. She could still see his hand on the door, his fat fingers curling around the edge, and the door suddenly pushing open into her face, the blinding pain as the door hit her nose and knocked her backward.

As the doorknob pulled from her hands, she reflexively reached to her face and stumbled backward into the foyer. The first man at the door entered quickly, the other on his heels, the last turned to shut the door behind him.

He strode quickly toward her and grabbed her upper arms to stop her from falling completely to the floor. The man behind, taller and thinner than the fat-fingered man that had hit her with the door, moved lithely to her left side and behind her, holding her shoulders so tightly she knew there would be no struggling against them. They had her pinned. She was upright but not standing on her own two feet.

The third man, the one that turned to shut the door as the first two entered, stood quietly by the door. So surprised by the sudden attack, she wanted to scream out but could not find the breath. She was held between the two men in shocked silence.

The door shutter, also clothed in a fine black suit, clean-shaven and serious, like the characters in Men in Black, looked from his steel-blue eyes and blankly stated, “You know why we’re here.”

She stared. “I do?” she stammered out.

“Don’t play stupid, Carrie. We know who you are. You can’t talk or buy your way out of it this time.”

With a flick of his wrist, he signaled to her captors to bring her toward him. Turning to the door, he opened it, took one quick look down the street, saw no one, and motioned them to follow. They lifted her like she were a floor lamp, clamping a smelly cloth over her mouth as they approached the door.

That was all she remembered. When she woke, she was unmolested. Nothing hurt but her nose from when the door hit it. She was dressed the same as when she had so eagerly answered the door. But now she found herself in this empty, windowless room, with these letters hastily painted on the wall before her.

Where was she? Why did they call her Carrie? And what did these letters mean?

Pick a Fear! Any Fear!

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Photo by Sergi Viladesau on Unsplash

A magician playing the game of “guess my card” is what I think of when I think to work on my fears.

I know. Everyone faces fear at some point in their lives. Some of us live with it daily. What mine? Ridiculous, to be completely honest. Generally, my mind is filled with “What if?” questions that can never be answered. The ones that everyone tells everyone else to ignore. I try to put them out of my head and live in the moment I’m in, but they creep back in again, along with wondering what would happen if we all paid a little more attention to the potential consequences of our actions instead. Wouldn’t it make the world just a little nicer? I mean, if other people paid more attention to what they were doing and how it could affect the people around them, maybe I wouldn’t have so much to worry about, damn it!

Sometimes I worry about the bigger things. Things like, am I raising my kids to be civilized and responsible adults? Will they grow up and be independent, decent people? If I make the choice to buy a new car, will I be able to afford it a year from now? Can I juggle my relationships in a way that makes us all happier and healthier people, or am I ruining the lives of those around me?

Then there are the silly things that I get stuck on. If I go to the grocery store today, will I just have to go again tomorrow? What if I start buying more things online? Am I bothering the person driving behind me with my slow-ass VW? Should I call my friend and bother her or let her come to me if she needs help? Should I stay or should I go now? …starts singing in her head…

It becomes overwhelming at times, but it passes pretty quickly. I’ve learned to take a break when I begin to feel the creeping sensation of anxiety. I sit alone and meditate or go for a long walk to clear my head. Talking about it helps too. Walking and spilling out all the bullshit ideas to someone who won’t take any of it too seriously and won’t tell me that I overthink things helps me more than anything else.

I can’t just shove it all aside and ignore it or quietly allow all the negativity to release into thin air. It’s just not helpful to me. Those things eventually float back down and attach themselves to my psyche like I’m a magnet for my ugliest thoughts. Not until I voice them do they begin to dissipate and dissolve. In my head and unspoken, they swirl around and build on each other like a snowball rolling downhill. Voiced into the world, these crappy ideas just can’t hold their shape and are crushed by the positive reality around them, vanquished.

So what can I do to create a safe space to release this negative energy without destroying those around me and ruining any sense of peace in my relationships? Two things. The first is to write it out. I type it out in my journal or open up a notebook and get a pen. Pen and paper is my preferred method. I draw pictures, spell out elaborate curse words in bold letters, express all the things I want to say to everyone I want to say it to in the worst ways, without regard for anyone’s feelings or well-being. These paper journals may terrify someone some day. I have plans to put them in a box with an explanation on the lid, so that if I die suddenly, no one will come across that ugliness and wonder what went wrong. This therapeutic writing helps a lot, most of the time. But sometimes I need more.

My second, and most favored, form of release is to walk and talk with a safe person. That’s usually my sweet husband. When I’m walking and talking the words and ideas aren’t nearly as harsh as when I write them. Something about the physical exertion helps tame them. I talk out all the things that weigh on me and he listens and walks beside me. Rarely does he try to fix it for me or express concern for my sanity. He just listens. And I feel lighter at every step. It feels much like a miracle. By the time we get back, my mood has improved, nothing seems so terrible and impossible anymore. We get a drink of water, relax into the couch or porch chairs, rest up a bit, and then continue with our day in peace.

How do you deal with fear? Do you release it into the wild? Suppress it? Reason it away? Or do you give into it and decide fear is there to warn you of danger and avoid what it is your fear most?

Why All the Fear?

“No fear have ye of evil curses, says you. Properly warned ye be, says I.”

What stops us from loving, from reaching out to people, from jumping in with both feet?

I believe it’s fear, but not exactly the fear of a broken heart. It’s the immature fear of not being able to possess something entirely.

And why should we fear that?

Do we go to a movie and hope it’s not very good?
We’d miss the entertainment of the hours we were there and the waste the money we spent!

Do we not buy a book because we can see it has a finite number of pages?
We’d never gain the experience the story!

Do we cry and shake an angry fist at an amusement park because it is closing and the day has come to an end?
We would ruin the day of excitement for ourselves and those around us.

Only a child would act this way because he hasn’t learned that all things come to an end, that to love is to lose, that we have the experiences not to keep them but to remember them.

Then why do we behave this way in our relationships with other people?

Why do we go out to meet people and not embrace who they are, get to know them and see if they are good friend material?

Why do we not jump into a new relationship with both feet and enjoy the moment?

And why do we throw a fit when a relationship finally ends, whether it was a long-term friendship or short term lover?

What if we didn’t?

What if we looked at the people around us as free and independent people that we might get the chance to spend time with, be that positive or negative, instead of objects to be possessed and kept like fine art collection?

What if we went into every relationship with every other human being knowing that our time together is finite, like a wonderful book, and that the point of reading it is to experience it and remember it forever?

Chaos Wins

Remember “The Butterfly Effect” movie? Chaos theory has always been fascinating to me. You just never know what kind of an effect anything you say or do will have on anyone else around you. I try to keep that in mind and do my best to keep a positive attitude and to use kindness to everyone around me, even in the smallest interactions. It doesn’t always happen, but I think I do better when I stay aware of my thinking.

One of those moments, one that changes your thinking in some small way, happened to me last week. I didn’t know it was happening at the time, but once I took a moment to meditate on the meeting, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was out for coffee with a new friend and we were talking about people, the town we live in, politics, the kinds of things you talk about over coffee. Coffee meetings need to happen more often folks, seriously. We could be doing wonders in this world!

He was talking about hiring new employees and had come across a young adult woman recently that said “No, don’t call me. I have social anxiety. I’d rather just text.” This is something I have said myself and was thinking, “That’s a girl who knows herself.” That’s when I was sent in another direction.

He said, “Can you believe that? That’s what we’re calling immaturity now, social anxiety. Grow up. People have to talk on the phone and in person to get work done. Yes, you may not like it and it may make you uncomfortable, but you have to grow as a person not just sit in your first instincts like an animal.”

I smiled and nodded, politely mentioning that I’ve struggled with similar issues myself, but we moved on to a new topic quickly, so I didn’t get into it much. To be honest, I was a little put off by his attitude.

We finished our coffee and conversation over the next hour or so. It was a glorious morning. Talking with new people, especially ones I feel I can be open and honest with and that want to hash out life’s intricacies really lights my fire.

On the way home, I kept thinking about what he had said about social anxiety. I’ve struggled with it all my life and about ten years ago realized that it was common and that there were millions of people that felt the same way. We want to interact with people. We aren’t introverts, happy to be alone, but for some reason we’re fearful of people. I’m not sure whether my feelings were caused by some traumatic event or if it’s just my natural inclination, but I’ve pretty much always felt it. Talking on the phone, specifically, has always been a problem for me.

My mother tried her best to help me over my natural “shyness” to no avail. I’ve had friends that have coached me on how they deal with the anxiety, the fear really, of dealing with new people over the phone and in person. But once I found out that there was a diagnosis for it, that other people “suffer” from it, I pretty much stopped trying to learn new ways to cope and get stronger and started using it as an excuse not to do things I didn’t like doing. Besides, the invention of texting and email made it very easy to avoid.

What kind of a life is that? It’s not like I’m happier alone. I crave contact with other humans. I love having lots of friends to talk to on the phone, through text, or in person, but for the last ten years or so I got it in my head that I was not capable of overcoming my shyness. I took refuge in raising my sons and being near my husband and left it at that. I had social anxiety. I had an excuse. What could I do?

There are lots of things shy people work to get over; speaking in front of groups, going to parties, not looking like a stammering idiot at interviews. It’s good for us to try and push our boundaries and do things we aren’t naturally comfortable doing. So why would I give up on something as simple as being brave enough to make a phone call?

So, this past week, I’ve worked on that. I’ve called people I don’t usually call. I’ve answered the phone instead of letting it go to voicemail. Once, when a local friend texted me, I offered to meet at McDonald’s and talk over a big iced tea. We had a great time and we’ll probably do it again soon!

Now, what I want to know is, how do I keep a hold of this “empowered” feeling? If I can overcome one fear, I bet there are others I can face up to as well!

Writing THAT Book

Something dawned on a me a while back. I’m scared. No. I’m terrified of finishing it and putting it out there. Why? Because people didn’t believe me when it happened and that killed me emotionally more than what happened, especially when some of those people were very close to me or should have been.

When it happened, there were people (other than the DA) that thought I was hiding something. The police don’t arrest completely innocent people. There had to be something going on that led them to think it was me. That’s what I thought too. It’s why I hid nothing from the detectives that served the search warrant and ultimately arrested me. I waived my “right to have an attorney present during questioning” because I believed whole-heartedly that you could not incriminate yourself if you didn’t do anything wrong. That was naïve. They used every word I said to build a case against me.

I thought it was just the police being overzealous. It’s not evil. It’s just the way things go sometimes. A mistake that will be cleared up after a while. A year later, it wasn’t cleared up until I paid a big lawyer a lot of money to scare them into letting go. Like big ill-trained dog with a bone, I had to get a big stick to get the bone away.

And then it got worse. My church, some friends, and strangers doubted my authenticity and said so. Right as my world started to slip away from me, instead of throwing me a rope, they turned their backs and kicked dirt at me as a fell. My lawyer warned me it would happen and he was right.

I’ll admit that one of my biggest problems is self-consciousness. I feel that I need to have the approval of others, kudos from everyone I can find. I feed off it. I shouldn’t, but I do. To walk around knowing that people think of ill of me is the worst thing I can think of. Being accused of a violent crime was horrible enough, but then people didn’t believe that I was innocent. I didn’t choose to be in the position. I did absolutely nothing to be there. It was just plain circumstances. It happened to me and I got through it.

Here I am, years later, writing it all out and reliving each painful day. And it turns out that writing it isn’t nearly as hard as offering it to the world…voluntarily. This time I’m publicly bringing it on myself. Not only will my family see it and know the details of my experience, some for the first time, but strangers all over the internet will be able to read it for themselves. If people close to me had a hard time believing me, how will strangers react? And how will I deal with that? That’s what is slowing me down right now.

Why am I doing this to myself? Because the truth must be told whether or not people listen or believe. I can’t let other people’s biases, their opinions, stop me from telling my story. I’m doing it for myself, to heal. Not only do I need to become a better story teller to make that happen, I need to strengthen my defenses to deal with the responses to it. Back when it happened, I had to focus on getting through. I had a young marriage, young children, and finances to deal with. It was a like a big meal. I ate and that’s all I could do. Only now am I ready to digest it and grow stronger from the nourishment.

It will be slow going for me, but I’ve learned than any progress is better than none. My story will be told in the best way I can tell it.

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