Friday, January 10, 2014

A revelation

The following TED talk is possibly one of the most life changing presentations I've ever heard: Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend

I have easily listened to it 6 time in the last 24 hours.  The significance of this talk is that having grown up with very little security and having experienced a great deal of uncertainty and trauma over the last 2 years as well as being prone to anxiety attacks, compounded with the constant message that anxiety can kill you, I have over the last year reached epic levels of anxiety "feedback loops" where anxiety about having anxiety quite literally triggers anxiety attacks.  

I'm not talking about worry, I'm talking full body shaking, tunnel vision, static sound in my ears or the loud thump of my seemingly impossibly rapid heartbeat drowning everything out, and profuse sweating despite being cold.  When they are over, sometimes my shoulders feel bruised from the tension with which I held them through the event.  Understand that these are not absence seizures, these events are the direct result of a series of thoughts that run in such a tight cycle triggering fear and uncertainly that I have a phsyiological response.  I'm completely lucid, but I cannot break the mental pattern of fear. It frequently wakes me out of a dead sleep in the early morning hours and leaves me largely ruined for the rest of the day. 

Obviously, it doesn't help that I'm in the midst of a job search and that few things are harder to face than financial concerns, but these were some hard decisions that I had to make and I stand by them. I regularly engage in CBT and physical therapy to keep on track, but I am also against medicating myself [though I do use vitamin supplements along with passionflower and valerian extracts when needed.]  The problem with anxiety is that it is an acute and exhausting sense of helplessness and being told that it [anxiety] can threaten your health and even cause death, takes the threat level to a near impossible shade of red, especially for someone with an already overactive imagination. 

The beauty of this talk is that A] I found that I'm already doing the right things [learning to communicate, lean on loved ones, ask for help, and be available for support when and where I can], B] beyond life being terminal in and of itself, I'm not as screwed as previous conventional wisdom has led me to believe, C] I can use this to my advantage, or at least not let it be a disadvantage, and D] I can trust myself.  The depth charge of WOW was so powerful that it almost felt like shock at first.  In interviews, I keep saying that part of the time I have taken off was to reframe what I wanted from life, but this has absolutely reframed what I feel as though I can do with my life and my contribution to the lives of others.  For the first time ever, I don't feel like time bomb or a liability to my loved ones.  I feel as though I have been released from a kind of prison.

This afternoon, for the first time since the car accident and since returning from NZ [apart from a few random days here and there that I can count on two hands], I walked down the street, with shoulders relaxed and without the feeling that I was on a tightrope above a sea of glass shards.  What has been the ever impending dread of the fog of fear surrounding me was gone.  It's hard to explain what a revelation that transition is, especially because I knew it could never come from external sources [hence, amongst other things, my resistance to long term medication therapy.]

To those who aren't personally familiar with acute anxiety, I'm certain that this sounds like hyperbole or exaggeration and the only thing I can say is, thank your lucky stars for not knowing the feeling and if you ever feel as though you may be sliding down that slippery slope, please know that there are tools for handling that don't always require ongoing or long term medication.  I would like to note, however, that sometimes, that really is the way to go, and whatever works for you is always the best path; I simply don't respond all that well to them and have chosen to seek behavioral corrections to address my long term strategy.

Finally, this has been on constant repeat for many days.  Mostly because there WILL be bad days, sometimes many in a row, and I think that we can have a tendency to become unforgiving with ourselves when this happens, but self imposed isolation is not a good course of action.  Shane's collaborative animated video is excellent, but I have to say that this version is so incredibly evocative when coupled with the deep compassionate wisdom and support of his poem and beautiful the music bed, that I am absolutely enamored.

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