I’m a little ashamed of myself today.
Up until yesterday evening I had been living without any form of anxiety crossing my mind for… I’m not really sure, to be honest, but it’s unimportant. For someone who suffers from any mental illness, any length of time without feeling the effects of it feels like a victory – until you feel it again. Then it’s back to square one, and getting over something you thought you had dealt with months ago.
The details, the trigger, and the outcome are not of any material value. I’m more concerned with the fact that an anxiety attack happened, and that I got past it.
I want to ruminate on that for a second – “anxiety attack”. I consider myself to be a person with a deep understanding of words, sentence structure, literary communication, and as hard as I try, I cannot come up with a better term for it. It’s an attack, because it is not something you expect. You live in fear of having one, definitely, but it’s not as though you wake up one morning, speak to your PA – “Barb, schedule an anxiety attack at 11:03 am today, please. It’s been a while.” If only.
No, instead, you are suddenly and often unwillingly faced with an enemy that seems to have no weakness. Imagine your mind as a small village in an area where natural disasters are just something you have to live with. Anxiety is like a hurricane that blows in at breakneck speed, razes the work you have put in to rebuild after the last attack, and leaves you with no food in your stores, no sense of direction, and takes with it the will to continue. You barely have time to prepare for the next one, because you’re pretty sure it’s going to happen but you don’t know when, and how do you prepare for an enemy with that much power and force?
You cannot really prepare. Oddly enough, you can only be ready.
I know how that sounds. Being ready and preparation are two things that kind of go hand in hand, and to separate the two seems ludicrous. But hear me out.
The hurricane must have a starting point. There’s that whole thing about the butterfly flapping its wings and then on the other side of the world, there’s destruction – let’s go with that. A single thought, about anything, is that one wing flap. Another thought = another flap, and so on. The power builds up with consecutive thoughts, right? The more thoughts about a specific subject you have, the more that butterfly is flapping its wings, which leads to more air, which leads to a hurricane. It’s a simplistic image, but go with me here, this is working for me and I feel like it’s a pretty good analogy.
The secret to beating this is to know that thoughts are going to happen, regardless of you actively thinking them or not. The mind was programmed to think, and stopping that process is impossible. You have to let the mind do its thing, but you have to let those thoughts be thoughts. Nothing more, nothing less.
Once you recognise that, and you willingly accept it and make it part of your life, you can consider your village ready for the next hurricane. I’m not going to promise that the moment you realise and internalise this, your village will have an indestructible diamond dome placed over it that no hurricane can shift, but it does fortify the structures that you built the last time. It can turn the hurricane into a breeze that flows through your village, passing gently over the buildings, and carrying on into oblivion. The butterfly’s wings are still flapping, but the wind is picking up less and less.
The way to allow this to happen is through two things – awareness and acceptance. Awareness is a pretty broad term here – it starts with being aware of the things you are thinking, aware of the thoughts you are assigning power to, and it carries on to being aware of the reality of the situation you are in without being blinded by the thoughts (giant hurricane) swirling around you. A lot of my anxiety stems from the idea of not being “enough”, not being good enough for my boyfriend, not being good enough to hold down a proper job, the list can (but won’t) go on. Here’s the reality of these two situations – my boyfriend is still my boyfriend. He can leave if he is going to leave, but he hasn’t. He’s not the type to pity-love anyone, so there must be something I’m doing right. Right? I may not have a 9-5 job, but I have enough freelance work to keep me going until I manage to find a job, and all I have to do is be just good enough at that job to stay employed there. Which isn’t difficult, really – do the job you’re paid for. That’s all that’s required. Awareness is a powerful tool, and it’s the first one you need to practise in order to build up your mental defenses.
Acceptance is, I think, much easier. Feeling shit? Alright. Sit down and figure out why. Now ask yourself if there’s anything that can be done that will make things better. If yes, you do your best to do it. If no, then you give in to the reality you are facing. “I cannot change the things that have happened. I cannot change the things I have no power over.” That’s what I mean, really. If something hurt you in the past, you will only find pain if you keep visiting that place. Sure, you can get all the closure you need, but revisiting it is not going to make it any easier, and sitting for hours trying to figure out why it happened is pointless. It happened – you need to move on. The world does not wait for anybody.
I no longer feel ashamed – I took my own advice. The anxiety attack happened, I know why, the reasons are a bit silly, and now I’m moving on.
In the midst of that hurricane, take some advice from Steven Universe – “take a second to find yourself, take a second, remind yourself/ take a second and ask yourself, if this is how you fall apart.”
They’re just thoughts, and shouldn’t be taken so seriously.
Let that hurricane be a breeze that carries the seeds of your self-compassion.
Get back to living.