Dear Anxiety

Dear Anxiety,

We’ve been together for a while now and we’ve come to know each other well. At first I was grateful for you, holding me back from stupid decisions, holding me back from embarrassing myself, holding me back from danger.

But now you’re just holding me back.

Too often now you’re first at the scene before I’ve even realised that you need to be. And you never try to hide that you’ve arrived.

You make my heart pound against my chest, like it’s looking for a way out.

You rush the blood to my brain, to my muscles, to my limbs.

You tense my muscles and quicken my breath.

You flood me with oxygen and ready me to move, even when there’s no move for me to make.

I feel dizzy.

A sweaty, waxy film sits upon on me and dampens my skin.

My limbs shake. Adrenalin surges through me.

I feel sick.

I want to vomit.

The physical feelings engulf me.

They make me sick. Literally sick.

I can’t focus on anything else.

You are so compelling, so I search for the danger – something that fits what I’m feeling and explains the craziness inside me. Whether or not the danger is real doesn’t matter, because I can’t help but act as though it is.

Now I’m anxious about getting anxious. I anticipate you before you’re there – that sick, clammy racing feeling.

Do you ever think of what you do to me? That’s a stupid question. I know you don’t. You don’t think of anything at all. 

You’re primal. I get it. All action and no thought. You’re the siren that screams at shadows to warn me they’ll pounce. But they never do. The only thing pouncing is you.

I hate the way I feel when you’re around. You stand around me like those unsmiling, unwavering security guards, ready to stand between me and trouble. But now you stand too close.

I can feel your hot moist breath on the back of my neck and when that happens, I can’t breathe. I would do anything to avoid you and sometimes that’s exactly what I do – I avoid you, or the places I know you will be.

At first I didn’t understand you but there was something about you that was strangely comforting. I’ve been terrified, actually terrified to let you go. I don’t know what letting you go will look like, but what I do know is that having you around feels bad.

You would say you protect me – from danger, from standing out, from failing, from embarrassing myself. I know you believe this. You’ve believed it enough for both of us. It’s never occurred to me until now that you might be wrong.

I’m looking too hard for the reasons to explain you. I hear you. I feel you. But I don’t know why you’re there. So I’m starting to think that you need me, more than I need you – and because of this I would be much better off without you.

You’re an alarmist. I’ve been paying too much attention to the drama you create inside me. Now I’m going to focus on the truth and it’s this: I don’t need you. I know you think you’re looking after me – I know that – and I’m grateful for you being there when I’ve needed you. But now you’re there whether I need you or not, and that’s not good for me.

You’re too quick to jump. Too quick to see things that aren’t there. Too quick to see trouble. Too quick think I can’t deal with it. 

When I close my eyes I see you and I feel you, but when I slow my breaths you fade. 

I know you hate when I do that. All the fight or flight, all the readying, all the work you do – it slowly falls away, one breath at a time.

So that’s how I’ll start. It won’t be easy. We’ve become a partnership you and I. Predictable. Safe. Needed.

I know you don’t mean to hurt me but the truth is that you do.

Thank you for trying to take care of me. I know you want to stay, and part of me wants you to stay – just in case. But I’m better off without you. So slowly, one breath at a time, I’m letting you go.


Anxiety can be debilitating, I know, but it doesn’t have to be. For more ways to deal with anxiety that work, see here.

 

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Dear Anxiety……It’s Over! | Doing It Afraid

[…] I just read the most awesome letter addressed to anxiety.  It was a Dear John sort of letter but it broke anxiety down in it simplest form.  I would recommend that everyone read it and see the lie behind this fear that we feel on a daily basis. We have to acknowledge the fact that it is only a feeling and there is a way out if we just turn towards the door and take one step at a time.  https://www.heysigmund.com/dear-anxiety/ […]

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Elexis

All I can do is cry. This is so touching and I thank you so much for putting this into beautiful words. I have been dealing with anxiety for 8 years now and just decided that I needed a change and that there is no real danger that I am hiding from. You put into words, so elegantly, what I am feeling and doing now. I started a blog doingitafraid.org to communicate these same feelings. Thank you so much for your lovely words! 🙂

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Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’
I love being a parent. I love it with every part of my being and more than I ever thought I could love anything. Honestly though, nothing has brought out my insecurities or vulnerabilities as much. This is so normal. Confusing, and normal. 

However many children we have, and whatever age they are, each child and each new stage will bring something new for us to learn. It will always be this way. Our children will each do life differently, and along the way we will need to adapt and bend ourselves around their path to light their way as best we can. But we won't do this perfectly, because we can't always know what mountains they'll need to climb, or what dragons they'll need to slay. We won't always know what they’ll need, and we won't always be able to give it. We don't need to. But we'll want to. Sometimes we’ll ache because of this and we’ll blame ourselves for not being ‘enough’. Sometimes we won't. This is the vulnerability that comes with parenting. 

We love them so much, and that never changes, but the way we feel about parenting might change a thousand times before breakfast. Parenting is tough. It's worth every second - every second - but it's tough. Great parents can feel everything, and sometimes it can turn from moment to moment - loving, furious, resentful, compassionate, gentle, tough, joyful, selfish, confused and wise - all of it. Great parents can feel all of it.

Because parenting is pure joy, but not always. We are strong, nurturing, selfless, loving, but not always. Parents aren't perfect. Love isn't perfect. And it was meant to be. We’re raising humans - real ones, with feelings, who don't need to be perfect, and wont  need others to be perfect. Humans who can be kind to others, and to themselves first. But they will learn this from us. Parenting is the role which needs us to be our most human, beautifully imperfect, flawed, vulnerable selves. Let's not judge ourselves for our shortcomings and the imperfections, and the necessary human-ness of us.❤️
The behaviour that comes with separation anxiety is the symptom not the problem. To strengthen children against separation anxiety, we have to respond at the source – the felt sense of separation from you.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person, there will be always be anxiety unless there is at least one of 2 things: attachment with another trusted, adult; or a felt sense of you holding on to them, even when you aren’t beside them. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it needs more than an adult being present. Just because there is another adult in the room, doesn’t mean your child will experience a deep sense of safety with that adult. This doesn’t mean the adult isn’t safe - it’s about what the brain perceives, and that brain is looking for a deep, felt sense of safety. This will come from the presence of an adult who, through their strong, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for them, and their joy in doing so. The joy in caretaking is important. It lets the child rest from seeking the adult’s care because there will be a sense that the adult wants it enough for both.

This can be helped along by showing your young one that you trust the adult to love and care for your child and keep him or her safe in your absence: ‘I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.’ This doesn’t mean children will instantly feel the attachment, but the path towards that will be more illuminated.

To help them feel you holding on even when you aren’t with them, let them know you’ll be thinking of them and can’t wait to be with them again. I used to tell my daughter that every 15 seconds, my mind makes sure it knows where she is. Think of this as ‘taking over’ their worry. ‘You don’t have to worry about you or me because I’m taking care of both of us – every 15 seconds.’ This might also look like giving them something of yours to hold on to while you’re gone – a scarf, a note. You will always be their favourite way to safety, but you can’t be everywhere. Another loving adult or the felt presence of you will help them rest.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say or whether to say anything at all. It doesn’t matter if the ‘right’ words aren’t there, because often there no right words. There are also no wrong ones. Often it’s not even about the words. Your presence, your attention, the sound of your voice - they all help to soften the hard edges of the world. Humans have been talking for as long as we’ve had heartbeats and there’s a reason for this. Talking heals. 

It helps to connect the emotional right brain with the logical left. This gives context and shape to feelings and helps them feel contained, which lets those feelings soften. 

You don’t need to fix anything and you don’t need to have all the answers. Even if the words land differently to the way you expected, you can clean it up once it’s out there. What’s important is opening the space for conversation, which opens the way to you. Try, ‘I’m wondering how you’re doing with everything. Would you like to talk?’ 

And let them take the lead. Some days they’ll want to talk about ‘it’ and some days they’ll want to talk about anything but. Whether it’s to distract from the mess of it all or to go deeper into it so they can carve their way through the feeling to the calm on the other side, healing will come. So ask, ‘Do you want to talk about ‘it’ or do you want to talk about something else? Because I’m here for both.’ ♥️
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