I think that I am finally making peace with my anxiety. I had been trying for a long time to figure out how to get rid of it. I was not sure I could. I wrote a comment on a blog post once that went like this:
“If anxiety is going to be a constant companion, I might as well pretend that it’s okay and treat it like a guest of honor, no?”
I said that with a LOT more conviction than I actually believed at the time.
I was raised in an invalidating, dysfunctional home environment and I have been living in a culture (here in the U.S.) that seems to prefer that we dumb down. I had been struggling with anxiety for a number of years, as I believe all bright, sensitive, and creative individuals might, especially if they’ve had their True Self squashed by those around them.
Once you get past all the Mr. Vinsons, you’re going to start getting closer and closer – that is, if you want to, and if you look for it and wait for it – to the kind of information that will be very, very dear to your heart. Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them – if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.
~ J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
As I’ve progressed in my journey, read extensively good works of literature and talked with other individuals, both in real life and online, I’m very glad to know I was not struggling alone. While I wanted the pain to go away when it had me in its grip, it wouldn’t leave me, though I tried various healthy (and some unhealthy) means of distraction.
As long as I was engaged in something deeply (like meditation or writing or making art), I could forget momentarily and the pain would ease, but in between times, I felt this oppressive anxiety and felt a constriction in the center of my chest. It didn’t help that there were some significantly negative life events going on this year. It seemed just when one thing resolved, another stressor cropped up. Such is life, I suppose.
I never did go on anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants. I had tried some herbal remedies with mixed results. For the most part, though, I just dealt with my feelings by feeling them.
I do believe that these challenges afforded me the greatest opportunity for me to grow, by not escaping the pain, but working with it, feeling it (and wow, was that ever hard), and learning what it could teach me. There were some times all I could do was breathe through the worst moments, and by allow the feelings move through me as best I could as each instance happened.
I had to learn how to dance with my pain, though it was not at all easy.
There is a challenge inherent in being sensitive, coming from a dysfunctional family upbringing, and living the thinking/creative life. There is anxiety that comes with the increased capacity for awareness and thought and creativity and the insistent inner urge to express from the soul in a world that generally has been dismissive of creative expression. Well, people in my part of the world had been dismissive, anyway.
I think also part of the anxiety, for me, also comes down to having a high need for creative expression, multiple interests (writing essays, writing poetry, photography, and mixed media art), lack of time to do all that I want to do (balancing the work/family/creative life is a hard thing to do) and having a broad focus (or perhaps just a scattered focus) which may be a natural experience for bright and creative minds. It has been hard to discipline myself on any one thing when there is so many practical tasks that need doing and creative impulses competing for my attention.
I want to accomplish all that I can. For no other reason than the sheer pleasure of having a body of creative work that I can be proud of…and maybe so that my daughters (who are also very creative) might get to know who their mother is a little bit better and what was important to me (besides them).
Would I give up the thinking life and creative life and my sensitivity just so I won’t feel pain, fear and anxiety? I don’t think so.
There has also been the struggle to cope with being sucked under by other people’s problems (some of which have been very serious). I’m sensitive to the point of almost feeling another person’s emotional pain and I had taken on too much of the emotional baggage of others. As I’ve been discovering, through my adult children of alcoholics and dysfunctional families group and al-anon group, I’d been an enabler/caretaker for most of my life and learned the myriad ways of doing so has kept me from taking care of my own self and my growth. I let others people’s needs and problems overshadow my own.
I’m still learning how to draw flexible boundaries between myself and others (slowly, ever so slowly).
I don’t have the energy to keep coming back to the extremely dark places I have had with others, and in particular, my husband. I no longer have the capacity to rescue my husband from his negative feelings or his alcohol misuse or his lack of self-esteem. I learned I can no longer rescue anyone without a huge risk of getting sucked into the riptide right along with them.
And, what I found so odd, though I could be compassionate with other people, I had no ability to be compassionate to myself, to even be present to my own pain. I was very, very hard on myself. Strange, isn’t it?
Or maybe not so. I was, after all, like many of us, conditioned to be my own worst enemy.
But – not anymore.
My role of caretaker, of enabler, to other adults had to go. I’d been caretaking others who should have been taking care of themselves since I was about 16 and all that got me was sick. My hashimoto’s thyroiditis and adrenal fatigue and PTSD and resultant mood swings was, I really believe, a direct result of trying to rescue dysfunctional people – who, yes, may have needed my love and compassionate witness, but who really needed to rescue themselves. I could be there and love them and bear witness to their pain and struggle, but they had their own choices to make, their own lessons to learn, their own journeys out of hell to take. And I had to learn how to detach with love.
I know now that I will avoid re-traumatizing myself by avoiding other people’s drama and negativity.
I’ve learned to be careful with what I will engage in, what I put into my body, and who I will spend my time with. This isn’t out of fear, but out of care and concern for my own person. I need me to be healthy. For me. For my daughters.
But, what has helped me, in addition to making changes to my diet and my lifestyle and working on healthy boundaries and surrounding myself with people who have positive attitudes, I’ve engaged in a lot of creative efforts. Not just writing and poetry, but art making, too.
While I’m way, way behind on updating my art blog, you can see some of my efforts over at The Heartful Artist (for those of you who are new to this blog and don’t know that I post there as well).
I just wanted to share that, because, for me, making art is one very important way to heal soul wounds…the wounds from childhood and the relationship traumas and the trauma of my own suicidal ideations. I wasn’t really wanting to die, it turns out, just stop feeling pain. Wounds that I couldn’t talk my way out of with numerous therapists. Wounds I couldn’t write my way out of sometimes.
I can’t change the past, but I can change my future by what I do in my present.
Sometimes I create bitter poetry (and whoa, was that ever cathartic – who knew?). Sometimes I create lovely poems. Sometimes I create bad art. Sometimes I create lovely art. Sometimes I take pictures that are mediocre, but every once in a while I take beautiful pictures that make my heart ache and make me glad to be alive.
Another part of my recovery process that I have been doing is getting out to see live theater. I think I attended about six shows in the past six months and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. Live theater is way more awesome than watching an impersonal film, particularly when it’s in a smaller venue and I get to sit right up in front, where all the action is. I almost feel like I’m a part of the play. And when the play is over, I get to visit with the cast.
I’m happier than I have been in a long, long time. I think as part of National Blog Posting Month, I’m going to post about all the happy things that I have been experiencing over the past 6 months. There’s so much I want to share with my readers.
I also wanted to share some books that have helped me in this journey to recover my emotional well-being and live a more creative life. If you get the chance, I’d encourage you to read a few of them.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Letters to a Young Artist: Building a Life in Art by Julia Cameron