I’ve been in a secret struggle off and on for most of my life, but especially within the past few months. It’s something I’ve built some shame around and haven’t told many people about for a lot of reasons.
Part of it has to do with my thought that how my life looks on outside sometimes doesn’t match what’s happening inside of me. Part of it is a story I tell myself about how people in my field shouldn’t have this struggle — or that I at least need to cover it up so clients won’t run for the hills (even though deep down, I know that’s a lie).
The secret is that I sometimes struggle with anxiety and it has really reared it’s head lately. Panic attacks. Fear that I’ll black out or pass out. Irrational fears that spike at the weirdest and most inconvenient times. Like driving on 264 to work. Even going to one of my happiest places on earth, my Zumba classes.
It’s hard to write that and be vulnerable; but in a way, it’s exactly what I need to do. Let go of the control I think I have by pushing it away and keeping it a secret. It’s been with me since I was a little girl; it’s scary being 10 years old and having the sensation that something’s wrong with your heart or you could be dying. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to work with professionals over the years to help me manage my anxiety; it ebbs and flows depending on lots of factors.
The factors right now seem to be that many things in my life have changed in less than a year, and in very positive ways. Strike that — reverse it: I have changed many things in my life; I didn’t let things happen to me. I am overjoyed and proud of this, but I also have fearful thoughts around it. I stand in disbelief of what I’ve created. It’s too big for me to handle. It’s not enough. It’s too loud. It’s too soft. I’m too much.
I’ve created, invited and continue to move towards a beautiful life and my central nervous system just can’t quite take it in at times. The waves of fear come in rushes and flushes: my head feels heavy; I don’t trust my body and worry my mind will win in the quest to impair my body with my frightening thoughts.
I let some in some light by revealing this to my spouse and a few friends, but what was most impactful was telling one friend, another mental health professional, what was up. He asked me if I ever saw or heard of the skit on The Tonight Show where they featured a chainsaw juggler. Not just balls. Or plates. Or even bricks. Chainsaws. Maybe right now, I’ve gone from throwing a few balls into the air and raising the stakes to create a bigger life, so it feels like juggling chainsaws. And getting hurt by a falling ball wouldn’t compare to a roaring chainsaw dropping.
And maybe that could happen. And maybe it won’t. And maybe I don’t like either of those possibilities because I want to control what comes next, but I know that’s not truly possible, so my mind and body have made that lack of control the enemy. It’s something I will fall into or have to pay for in the way of “dying of embarrassment” if I actually did topple over in the middle of “Boom Boom Mama” in Zumba. Or having to gather myself by taking deep breaths and singing loudly while I’m driving on the interstate on days I’ve pushed too hard to do or be too much and don’t recognize that.
My hope is that managing my anxiety is going to be a great teacher to me; that I will find wisdom in what I now run away from or try to fix. I hope it’s like my walk through infertility when I couldn’t fathom how I would ever glean anything positive for myself or anyone else in the world by having those experiences — just debilitating sadness and loneliness.
Now, I talk to a woman who is infertile with a sense of empathy, compassion and knowing that could only come from what I had to learn from that very same thing she hides and shows only to certain people.
Right now, I am just learning to lean in and listen to what’s happening to me instead of spinning away from it. It has always been trying to teach me something and I am ready to let a few chainsaws drop to make room for some pillows.