Two great resources

If you’re an anxiety super hero (or just love one – and really, what’s not to love) I encourage you to check out these two websites.

anxieties.com

This is R. Reid Wilson’s site (author of “Don’t Panic”). I would recommend first signing up for his “Free Anxieties Update & E-zine”. You’ll receive great information & the article that accompanies your first message is fantastic — “The Anxiety Disorders Game”. If you’re a therapist, this article has fantastic ideas that might inspire your treatment groups. If you’re a client (or maybe wear both hats), I love the message about approaching anxiety with a welcoming attitude. It’s worth the time, I promise.

Reid Wilson also has a thorough “free self help” section (scroll down menu’s). I especially like the sections on use of paradox & attitude. His center is in North Carolina & you can sign up for one of his weekend treatment groups – one for Panic disorder and one for OCD.

anxietycoach.com

This site belongs to Dave Carbonell & is my other favorite anxiety site. I first found out about Dr. Carbonell when I read an article he wrote called “Float or Swim”. I instantly liked his style & felt like he knew something about anxiety that I needed to know. I poured through his website, which has fantastic, very readable articles and even bought his workbook called, “Panic Attacks Workbook – a guided program for beating the panic trick”. This workbook, along with a KD Edstrom CD helped me fly to from coast to coast by myself (without drugs because I was pregnant. I did warn my seatmates that I might cry the entire flight & made friends with a spanish speaking nun, but I actually felt great once we got up in the air!) But I digress.

Check out the section called “Panic Disorder & Agoraphobia“. Also, he has an archive of articles which is hard to find on the site, but here’s the link. Great writing, nice laid back style. I once saw him work with an anxious flyer on a TV talk show. He was sitting next to the anxious woman and as the plane took off she began getting visibly nervous & started to cry. He was like a midwife – he validated & supported her and said something like, “Hmmm. I guess that had to happen.” No big deal. He clearly wasn’t taken aback by her panic or worried about her running amok on the plane. I frequently think about what he said & the calming, normalizing message of his body language. If you live in Chicago, he has an anxiety treatment center – Or, you can contact him for phone consultations individually or as part of a workbook study group.

What other sites have you found to be helpful?

Existential angst:

I’ve always had a fear of death. I can remember trying to fall asleep at night as a little girl and thinking about how I was going to die some day. The fear would rise to such intensity that I would race down the stairs at full speed and jump into my mother’s arms. “Oh sweetie. Most people don’t die until they’re very, very old and that’s a long time from now. It’s ok.” We would talk about God and heaven for a while. She would hold me and I’d watch a little TV or read a book with her until I was settled down. Then, I’d get tucked into my bed again for a good night’s sleep.

I think anxiety, for some, has to do with these questions of “Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? Where’s God? Why do people have to die? What happens next?”

Sometimes I’ll be gazing up at the sky or simply going about my day and thoughts will come in like a Fox TV newstream, “You might want to sit down for this one folks. . .This just in. . .We live on a planet. . .you know, one that’s spinning & traveling through space. . . and did you know that outer space is just beyond our atmosphere. . .and, here’s the kicker people, we’re all gonna die someday!” When we’re fully aware of this amazing existence of ours, it can take you back a bit.

Sometimes, I have to remember that these repetitive thoughts are simply symptoms of anxiety (where content has little meaning). When that happens, I start going down the “AWARE” list.

But, other times it’s a reminder to dig deeper. A reminder to have gratitude for life and the love around me. A reminder that the spiritual task of anxiety calls for us to have faith in something we cannot see and to surrender in the face of it’s awesome mystery.

Some wisdom in anxiety

I wrote this late on Tuesday night and had saved it as a draft. Before you read any further, know that our daughter is home now and recovering. We’re keeping life as simple and low key as you can with 3 energetic kids, accepting the love & support of our tribe and readjusting to home life after hospitalization.

7/8/08
My little girl is in the hospital tonight. She’s 6 years old and her little body is working hard to get rid of a high fever, junky cough, intense stomach pains and all around malaise. Her doctor says she’s fighting both a bacterial and viral infection and is getting IV antibiotics to get rid of the former. The combination of medicine, body wisdom and time seem to be working and we hope to bring her home in two days.

I had many moments today where I felt a surge of adrenaline, wondering what was going on and when my baby would be back to her normal self.

Something I was reminded of is that, even in high stress situations, I can handle anxiety and that sometimes it serves an important purpose.

As the doctor told us that she felt that her symptoms needed to be monitored & treated at the hospital, my anxiety pushed me (and my amazing husband) to ask good questions to make an informed decision.

When I walked into the room and she was in a lot of abdominal pain, panting and looked terrible, I felt a big wave of adrenaline. This was no run of the mill panicky feeling, it was a signal that all was not right. My anxiety prompted me to get the nurse and ask what’s going on with my baby, when will we see the doctor & what can we do for her right now.

As we traveled downstairs to get x-rays, me in the wheelchair and her in my lap, my mind wandered to many dark places. My body listened closely and responded. I remembered that thoughts are not facts, just a collection of ideas, worries and imagination and decided to sing in my daughters’ ear instead, soothing both of us. I whispered affirmations – Everything’s going to be alright, baby; You’re body is so strong; I love you; You’re safe – I’m right here.

Today was a reminder that there can be wisdom in anxiety. The flush of adrenaline, welcomed, shouting, “Be alert, Ask questions, Protect” empowers us & gives us direction and energy to do what needs to be done. It’s part of a fine tuned alarm system that, at it’s best, is essential and serves us well.

This little light of mine

I watched the movie “Akeelah and the Bee” tonight with my family & they used this poem from Marianne Williamson. I had heard it before, but liked it so much that I wanted to share it. Keep shining your light – the world depends on it.

Our Greatest Fear

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other

people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson

Cat-like reflexes

I’ve got to be honest. One of the upsides of my anxiety is that I have cat-like reflex skills when it comes to my children. I can remember when my first child was learning to eat solids. I’d cut up her apple and cheese into tiny, mouse sized bites. Even when I was taking pre-cautions and being ultra careful, that “breathe, chew, swallow” function would derail from time to time. I’d go to give her another apple bit and she would start coughing and getting all red in the face. Before she knew what was happening, I had grabbed her from the highchair and turned her upside down, patting her on the back to dislodge the “foreign object” while my heart raced.

When I told my former therapist this story, she said that I should be proud. She added that in the olden days, clans needed quick reflexes to flee danger at a moment’s notice. When we talked about how anxiety runs in my family, she laughed and said, “See, it served its purpose then. Your clan survived!”

Naked

I spent a lot of years feeling ashamed of my anxiety. Feeling like it meant something was wrong with me deep down. Wondering if people would still like me if they knew. Even though I told my family and some close friends, I held these competing feelings of wanting to talk about what I was experiencing and also not making it a big deal.

The problem with not telling people, of course, is that it makes the anxiety monster that much bigger and higher maintenance. If it’s something you have to hide, then it must be pretty bad. And, eventually, you start feeling very alone.

It’s not the right time to talk about it, I would think. Or, I don’t want to get into it — because how do you explain that fears, which sound utterly ridiculous, feel very real in a moment of panic. And, how do you also explain that anxiety is only a small part of you, even if it tries to act big and has a flair for the dramatic?

One time I disclosed to a friend and she joked, “Well, at least you don’t hear voices in your head. . . do you?”

After having anxiety under control for a long stretch of time, I experienced a really hard postpartum after my 3rd child. Part of what brought me out and helped me heal was sharing with others what I was going through. I can’t tell you how many people stepped up and either said, “Me too” or “I get it and I’m here.” One friend said, “I hope you take this the right way, but it just makes me feel so much better knowing that you’re dealing with the same stuff that I am. It makes me feel more normal and less alone.”

Maybe there’s a gift in this anxiety after all? If we can stand psychologically naked among each other, we realize that none of us are immune to life’s challenges – And, just knowing that we’re all in this crazy life together brings us strength and makes the road all the more manageable.

Why Anxiety Girl?

A few years ago I was hanging out with my sister in law Hilleary at a bridal shower. We’re notorious for scoping out the dessert table and behaving badly at “formal” family functions – making raunchy jokes in the back of the pack; laughing out loud at inappropriate times.

Hilleary also wrestles with anxiety and has a great sense of humor.

So, there we were nibbling anything we could get our hands on and talking about feeling claustrophobic. You know how showers can get – too many people shoe-horned into a small space, oohing and aahing over houseware products, going on for hours on end. As much as we adored the hostess, we were just over it.

Noticing a sliding glass door, we had the following conversation.

“Oh my God, I’m so ready to go home. You think we can just sneak out the back door?”

“Well, if I was a super hero, I would fly right through that glass door and get out of here!”

“Yeah, how about an anxiety super hero!”

“Able to flee social situations in a single bound!”

Over the years, I’ve had lots of fun visuals of Anxiety Girl fleeing social situations in a single bound; running away at lightening speed from speaking engagements; using her super powers to transport herself to California instead of flying in an airplane.

Of course, Anxiety Girl’s real power comes from staying in the feared situation. Her real courage is in feeling the wave of fear build up – feeling the dread that something very wrong is about to happen – and, despite her worries, diving head first into the swell and floating on the other side. Avoidance is her kryptonite and exposure breaks those chains.

I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

I’m quickly learning that one of the problems with blogging is that you’re accountable. But then, maybe that’s one of the reasons I started writing.

So, this week my husband was out of town for work. Grandma came to visit the first half of the week. The second half, I packed up my mini-van with 3 excited girls and we traveled about 90 miles to Grandma and Gramps’ house, which happens to be on the water.

About 4 or 5 years ago, I would get pretty anxious driving the highway route to her house that included two long, but low bridges. I worked on it first by driving with my husband as a passenger. Then I graduated to following Grandma’s car while I drove my own. And, finally, I took it on by myself (that is, me with the kids).

Just when I felt like it was no problem & couldn’t remember why it seemed so difficult, this particular town decided that they needed bigger bridges to let the passing cargo boats go through. “Dammit”, I said, “Why would they destroy those sweet little bridges? There’s no way I’ll ever drive over those huge monsters.” I was really irritated. Why would the town do that to me? ‘That’s fine, I really love the scenic views of the back roads’, I thought. ‘There’s no shame in driving that way.’

Well, over the past year I’ve driven over the new “monster” bridges with my husband riding as a passenger & cheerleader. It’s been predictable – real scary at first (I hate the ascent); then not so bad; and finally no big deal as long as someone was with me.

So, as Mom & I drove our separate cars this week she checked in.
“Which way do you want to go?”
“Let’s drive through the point.” I said.
“Wanna lead or follow?” she asked.
“I’ll lead.”
“Alright. See you there.”

As we approached the first bridge I felt a flutter of adrenaline, but it was alright & I felt good. But, my mind was already thinking of the return trip. I could always take the back roads and it would be no big deal. Then again, I’d started this blog and had been talking about facing your fears. Didn’t I just say that I didn’t avoid anything in my daily life anymore? Well, this route was not part of my daily life, but avoiding anxiety in general does tend to feed the beast.

Over the visit, the thought of crossing those bridges stayed with me, popping up here and there in the middle of otherwise fun events. This morning I woke up feeling anxious, but also feeling like I really had to do it. It was important not to run away. But, a chorus of voices offered differing points of view.

“You have to do it. Avoiding fear makes it grow exponentially.”
-Well, I don’t HAVE to, but the 2nd part really is true.

“Just take the back roads. It’s not big deal. We’ll be back next week & I can really take the time to practice and do it over and over again. That’s a good idea.”
-Sounds reasonable.

“Looks like rain. No one would expect me to drive over big bridges for the first time in bad weather.”
True, but Gramps’ says the rain isn’t coming until much later.

“Then again, not doing it today will make it harder next week. What’s the difference. If you’re going to do it next week, why not today? Getting to the top of the bridge will take 30 seconds & it’s all downhill from there.”
-But what if I can’t. What if I have to stop on the bridge with my babies. (Insert image of kids crying on top of the bridge while I’m frozen with fear. Fast forward to images of them all in therapy because of me).
-Ok, in the 12 years I’ve been dealing with this crap, that’s never happened. In all my
experience and in all the books I’ve read, the thing you fear never happens. It’s a hoax. Am I going to let myself be tricked today?

“Do what will make you proud later today.”
-Alright, I’m still anxious, but bring it on.

As I packed my bags, I scribbled out a new coping card to carry with me. I looked over some notes from a pain coping class I’d taken as we prepared for baby #3 (the same philosophy that I teach to expectant parents — I’ll post later about how amazingly similar childbirth support & prep are to working through the sensations of anxiety). “Looking good man, keep going” is from a sweet note my 8 yr. old made for me before her baby sister was born. You have to read Ina May to get the horse lips reference.

We began our drive. I looked at the faces of my sweet girls. They weren’t worried. Why should I be? I told them that we were going to drive through the point and over the new bridges. “Remember how Mommy’s been working on driving over those bridges? Will you help cheer me on like last time?”

Silence at first. Then a request for food. Then music. Finally I heard from the back, “Go Mommy Go!”

“Yeah! Ok, I wonder how many seconds it will take to get to the top of the bridge and then all the way over?” (I was thinking 30 seconds to the top, max). “Will you help me count?” They were sold. Now I had to work with anticipation.

As we drove the 30 miles it took to get there, I had some waves of adrenaline and visions of getting stuck on the bridge. I was still looking for a way out. I countered those unhelpful thoughts with mantra’s – I can do this. Up and over. Don’t fight it – that’s it. Lean into it. Watch the feelings go up and down. You are stronger than these sensations. I remembered uttering some of those same words, with compassion, to a powerful Mama in labor just last week.

3 miles to go. I called my husband for a little support and he didn’t answer (you needed to do it without me, he later said – which was true). I thought of my friend Melissa, who I teach with, as she leads parents through contractions and heard her voice, “Get up in the face of this sensation. Don’t look for a way out. Do it like your life depends on it!” It may sound dramatic, but my life does depend on it.

Now here’s a funny twist about anxiety for me & many others. The moment I saw the incline of the bridge, I felt relief. The anticipation was far worse – it always is.

I turned on Stevie Wonder (who helped get me through postpartum) and we counted to the beat of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”. It took 22 “Stevie Seconds” to get to the top & I yelled out, “Woohoo!” out of relief, put one hand in the air and did a little dance. We kept counting – 46 seconds was how long it took in total. The second bridge was 21 seconds to the top and 64 total. I thought about how I could have not done this today, but I did. I felt proud.

The rest of the ride was quiet and uneventful. I threw in a book on CD for the girls, they played peek-a-boo and entertained the baby, we talked about what the world would look like if we could create it ourselves. And, in small, but life changing ways, we can.

Coping Cards

I have little pieces of paper all over the place with affirmations and coping statements. You can find them in the bottom of my purse, the dashboard of my car, on top of my nightstand and many other places. I write them when I’m feeling good in preparation for the times when logic goes flying out the window. Almost all of them have the acronym AWARE, which I read about in Dave Carbonell’s workbook. Here’s one that I just pulled out of my purse:

*Courage is being afraid and doing it anyways.*

Accept: I expect to feel anxious.
It’s ok to be nervous here.
This is what I came for – practice with fear.

Wait & watch: Resist the urge to leave or make it stop.
Stay put & see that you’re ok.
Watch anxiety – it goes up and down.
Am I being tricked again?

Actions: Deep belly breathing; imagry; music.
Try to get comfortable & enjoy the ride; some rides are longer than other;
if you can’t get more comfortable, that’s ok too.

Repeat: Start from the top as often as needed.

End: All anxiety attacks end. It’s not my job to make it end.

When King Kong Sits on your House, Invite Him In

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

So, I have this comic strip image in my head where a woman is inside her house on a beautiful day. The sun is shining through the open windows. As she gazes out, she sees anxiety (personified as a little chimpanzee) lurking outside by the back fence, playing and swinging in the trees. At the sight of him, she’s gripped by fear and begins locking the windows, beads of sweat forming on her brow. Compulsively, she peers out from behind the closed curtains. For a moment, he disappears and all is good again until the chimp (anxiety) opens the front door and playfully taps her on the shoulder. “I’m back!” he seems to say with a smile.

The woman, already hyper vigilant and on guard for any sight of the beast, tackles the chimp to the ground, puts it in a head lock and kicks it back outside. She throws all the locks, as she trembles and shakes, and puts a chair beneath the doorknob to keep it from coming back in.

The more she tries to protect herself, the more frightened she gets. The more she scares herself, the bigger the chimp becomes until it’s as big as King Kong sitting on her house – its eye filling up an entire window as it peers inside.

Finally, after trying everything she can think of to force him to leave (distraction – “Hey, is that a banana tree over there”?, pleading, calling a safe person to rescue her, turning the music up loud, googling expert advice, getting down on her knees to pray), she gives up and opens up the door.

“Come on in”, she gestures with exhaustion.

As soon as the door opens, King Kong shrinks back down to the size of a baby chimp, and jumps onto her lap. The woman strokes his soft fur and smiles. “I’m not afraid of you. In fact, you can stay as long as you like.”

Disappointed and bored now that the game is over, the chimp slips out the back door, swings over the fence and moves to play in the trees next door.

*How are you greeting the chimps playing just outside your window? What are you fighting and resisting that’s growing bigger and stronger as a result? Where can you give up the fight?

*Anyone who is an illustrator and wants to draw this, I’d love to see it!

*Edited and reposted from 6/22/08