It has been about four months since my last post. In those four months I continued to explore what was going on with my blood work and my health. It has been a learning process. I have had dozens of appointments, sinus surgery, constant blood work, and, my least favorite, a bone marrow biopsy (OUCH). While no one likes to hear something abnormal is going on, an anxious person doesn’t like to hear this times 100. Anxiety is essentially the same as fear, both originating from the same part of the brain (the amygdala). AND, anxious people can get anxious over all sorts of things, but one fear that we all have in common is uncertainty. Uncertainty can drive us absolutely mad. Uncertain things make anxious people spiral; relationships, jobs, finances, weekend plans, if these things are uncertain, then there is a threat. Once there is a threat, the flight or fight system is activated and cortisol is released. Once this threat system starts happening more regularly, the body starts to break down because the sympathetic nervous system is dominant and there is never a chance to recover. P.S THIS IS WHY YOGA SAVES ME. Yoga activates the restful, parasympathetic nervous system and allows the body to wind down and catch up, to recover.
As much as I know all of these things: do yoga, meditate, say mantras, rest and digest, life events can still get the best of me and having an anxiety disorder means I am ALWAYS working on it. I happen to be a bit of a hypochondriac (“a bit” may be an understatement). During these past eight months I have been seeing doctors, who can’t give me a diagnosis or tell me exactly what is wrong. Instead, they just tell me things about my blood work and we continue to wait and to dig, and I continue to go down a scary, lonely rabbit hole (I should mention that rabbit holes are not good places for anxious people, either).
Six months into this journey of “abnormal blood work,” I started to realize I was losing my mind a little. I was so overly fearful of every symptom. I was sick of getting scared when I felt a certain way or noticed something abnormal. I thought, “What is the worst case scenario.” Sometimes, it is helpful for anxious people to identify what the worst outcome would be and then reassure themselves from there. In most cases, death could be the answer. Working through “the fear of death” can be a helpful experience. Just imagining peace around dying and realizing that it will one day come, no matter what, can be oddly soothing (in yoga, the fear of death is one of the seven “seeds” of suffering).
I was swimming in the ocean one Saturday and just let myself drift with the current. Just daydreaming in the ocean, I realized I had been swimming against the current for seven months. If I keep fighting this current I will never make it to the shore. That’s when I realized I had become a little wrapped up and that I needed to start riding the wave of life. I loved this metaphor because I am an ocean baby, but here is what it means:
In life you have two choices, accept circumstances or resist them. When you accept hardships and pain in your life, you reduce suffering. Acceptance is learning to ride the wave. Ride with its current and it will eventually deliver you to the shore. Fight against it and you will tire yourself out and eventually drown (morbid, I know). We resist the current out of fear. Riding the wave doesn’t mean you’re not scared, but it means you have courage. I love this quote from Mike Tyson’s trainer:
“The hero and the coward both feel the same thing. But the hero uses his fear, while the coward runs. It’s the same fear, but it’s what you do with it that matters.”
The hero rides the wave of life, accepting and moving along. The coward fights and resists the current, causing chaos to brew in the mind and later in the body.
I thought of another fun metaphor while running today. For all my fellow runners’ out there, I am sure you can relate. Getting through hardships in life is like conquering a really hard hill along your run. When you are running on the incline, it is really hard to understand that it will be over soon and you can get angry and mentally blocked preparing for that hill. In reality, you will always get over the hill and finish your run, even if you have to walk a little.
For any non-runners who totally did not get that, what I mean to say is, everything comes to an end, but it is how we deal with the hard parts of life that really shape who we are. So, when you are in the brutal worst parts of the inclines in your life, I invite you to ride the wave. Accept the situation, but make your life beautiful by learning and understanding your challenges. Challenge is what shapes us ultimately. When things are going swimmingly well, we usually learn nothing.
I have learned so much in the past five years. I know how I tick and what makes my anxiety-prone brain go haywire. I have learned to witness my behavior and become more aware of the unhealthy habits that I fall in and out of and I have worked day in, and day out, on replacing them with new, healthy habits. I realize I will have hard days and that’s okay, so long as I do not burden others with my hard days. I have learned that we have to rely on ourselves more than anyone else on the planet. We are the ones who will ultimately make a difference in our anxiety and it is hard for our partners/friends/families to understand why we feel the way that we feel or why we are so anxious “over nothing.” We cannot make others responsible and it is empowering to do the work yourself. I always think of the warrior from yoga. Be the warrior, riding the wave of life!
I have a strong feeling that this whole “health crisis” journey is a major blessing for me because it will allow me to help clients in my yoga therapy practice, and that is truly a gift and a blessing. It has only made me stronger.
If anyone else is experiencing lots of uncertainty in their lives, I also highly recommend Sarah Wilson’s new book, First, we Make the Beast Beautiful. She does a lovely job of illustrating how to live a beautiful life with anxiety. I recently started reading it and I adore each chapter.
I am just about to launch a new website for my yoga therapy business in a few days. I got married on June 2nd and we will be buying our first home together at the end of August. Life is a crazy wave and I am riding it.