There are many, many times that I’ve overcome a huge amount of anxiety in my life. When I look back at those times, I often don’t comprehend how it happened, feeling like it was a different person who did those things – wrote that paper, faced down that scary person – not me. I’ve looked back on what I’ve done and instead of feeling empowered, felt even more hopeless because…I didn’t remember how I’d done it, how would I ever do it again? How do you repeat an out of body experience?!?!
Well. I don’t always see myself as a strong person, a capable person, a kind, intelligent person worthy of love, even though I am. So many people doubt themselves even though they are. So how am I typing this today, why am I not still curled up under the covers?
It isn’t magic.
I have anxiety and this means anxious thoughts and anxious feelings. Oftentimes anxious feelings kick in before I can articulate anxious thoughts. This is for the best actually! Anxious thoughts are nasty little critters that call their other anxious little friends over with the express purpose of driving me BANANAS. Kind of like the giant, horrifying carpenter ants that recently invaded my sketchy little apartment..die, ants, DIE. Knowing what the first stirrings of anxiety are is important – for me it is tightness in my chest, queasy tightness in my belly, back aches, shallow breathing.
There is a place in my brain, my therapist told me. It’s called the amygdala. It processes danger. It is strongly connected to the very old part of my brain, and reeeeally weakly connected to the rational, wrinkly part of my brain, the part that makes me human. So the amygdala is ancient, and its structure is shared with most other animals. Like sheep. And dogs. And squirrels. It’s not designed to handle the complex pressures we face today. It’s designed to handle things like food, shelter, and not getting trampled by buffalo.
The part of my brain that is driving me bananas makes about as much sense as a runty squirrel and treats every life situation as a herd of buffalo bee-lining towards me.
Well, I could have told you that…haha.
The main point is that I can’t rely on my feelings the way that I thought. Mid anxiety attack is not the time to ‘follow my gut’ because frankly, my ‘gut’ was not engineered for this s****. It’s the time to let that part of myself go, let it rest instead of engaging it in making my decision on how to act. It’s the time to instead engage my rational, wrinkly, human part, because it already knows that what I’m trying to do is achievable.
Like just now, I finally checked my email for the first time in a week. I am really anxious about it, I always feel like I’ll get terrible news over email. But I did it, and I feel better, and it wasn’t magic.
I didn’t follow my gut, I followed my wrinkly, delightfully human brains.