Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Anxiety, the Low Flyer

I have been using Tuesdays on this blog to write about case studies that exemplify some of the concepts and principles that I teach. I did not update yesterday, even though the example I had in mind is one of my favorites. Instead, I was contemplating the emotion of anxiety.

The dictionary defines anxiety as a state of disquiet, fear or nervous tension. It can also be used to describe a state of eagerness (as in anxious to succeed.) Personally, my experience of anxiety is emotional and physical discomfort and unease, a kind of fogginess of mind that tells me I must move, and at the same time preventing me from doing so. I was talking with my friend Russell Lipensky the other day and he shared with me an experience that focused his attention on his anxiety. That started me thinking about my own anxiety.

In 2000 I started having panic attacks. Up to that point, I had thought of panic attacks as the province of malingerers and drama queens. I used to think, "Panic attack? Puh-leez! Get over it!" My first panic attack woke me up out of a sound sleep. I thought I was dying. I thought I had toxic shock syndrome. By the yellow light of my 2 a.m. apartment bathroom I was fumbling under the sink for the insert from the Tampax box to read the signs and symptoms of TSS. I took myself to the emergency room, where a doctor held my hands out, looked at the palms, and in a definite voice said, "Nope, you don't have TSS." That was all I needed to hear. I went home and slept the rest of the night with the light on. I no longer have panic attacks, thanks to Mariola Strahlberg, a brilliant acupuncturist. But I still have anxiety.

I tend to hide my anxiety, as I think of it as a weakness, but my conversation with Russell made me realize that I need to take a hard look at the emotion, its origins and its expressions in my life. Anxiety is one of the most corrosive and crippling emotions in our human experience. I think of it as a vampire, because it sucks away all of my focus and attention. Over the years I have become very practiced at processing my emotions in present time, to the point where anger, fear, sadness, guilt or resentment are usually dealt with in a matter of minutes. But anxiety ... no. It is a very low flyer and escapes my emotional radar until I realize I have just spent ten minutes wringing the metaphorical hands of my thoughts, perseverating on an inconsequential detail.

My intuition tells me my anxiety was born shortly after I was, during the 24 hours I spent in an incubator right after my birth. Exploring this over the next few days will be an opportunity to clear another piece of my birth script. I will also be doing my best King Kong imitation as I snatch these troublesome little low-flying menaces out of my mental sky to clear the air.

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