Though it’s debatable whether Bridget Jones has anxiety or just “appallingly bad” public speaking skills, I have certainly experienced moments when words were expected from my mouth and nothing came out. Or worse yet, I would become so overwhelmed in social situations that it was hard to breathe.
Have you experienced the following?
On a daily basis I feel like I’m doing
when I’m really doing
When I was a kid a dear family member of mine struggled with agoraphobia (an anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed). I was encouraged to stay home when I felt overwhelmed and didn’t want to go to school (which was often). But now, years later, I don’t want to let anxiety control me any more, so I’ve resorted to being creative…
DISCLAIMER: Medication and counseling can be wonderful tools to help anxiety sufferers manage life. For some people these are the only methods that they have found effective. For me, counseling and a diet change were the essential first steps to address anxiety. I honor that we are all different and require different things.
What I used to do
[A day-in-the-life example] One day as a college student I was assigned to write a 10-page paper. Every time I thought about writing my energy would flare up and I couldn’t calm down or focus, so I’d eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream (Mmm-mmm). My nerves would seem to calm down initially, but a few paragraphs later I’d start to doubt myself or abilities, the anxiety would flare up and I’d need another hit of sugar to feel calm again. This time I’d bake a family-size apple cobbler, eat 3/4 of the entire pan and sit back down moaning – now prepared to work in my “food coma”.
Eventually this led to an emergency room visit and later the diagnosis (by some amazing naturopathic doctors at Bastyr University) of hyperinsulinemia, food allergies and a compulsive overeating disorder. Looking back, I knew I always overate to feel better, but that’s what we did in my family – and in our whole culture for that matter. I wasn’t starving myself. I wasn’t throwing up. I didn’t think I had an eating disorder. I just couldn’t stop eating! To further complicate things, I was in the normal weight range, so no one assumed anything was wrong.
I spent my days more excited about eating than I was about anything else: I was living to eat, instead of eating to live. Thanks to Bastyr University, I went on a cleanse with some nasty (though miraculous) Chinese herbs, a crazy healthy diet, and began counseling for an eating disorder.
The Tip that Saved My Life
In my first session I was told that overeating was “symbolic of a need for affection”. My body just wanted to feel better. It wanted comfort because the rest of the world felt so overwhelming that I couldn’t find comfort within myself. I soon began to attend Overeater’s Anonymous (yes, they thankfully have those) and found out that I wasn’t alone. Looking around at how many people I know eat when they’re not hungry, I wonder how many other people struggle with managing life.
There is no need to feel bad about experiencing mental health issues. Every year 1 in 4 people in the United States will experience some kind of diagnosable mental health disorder.
The doctors also had me brainstorm healthy alternatives to eating that could bring me comfort without the calories: stretching to soothing music, leaving my apartment immediately to go on a walk instead of into the kitchen, no snacks next to my bed (bummer), deep breathing, visualizations, etc. These have all become my staples (much better than a whole loaf of white bread) and I can proudly say that today I no longer live to eat. 🙂
What I’m working on
I now know and avoid all of my food allergies: gluten, dairy, eggs and beans. If I eat them on accident my body feels terribly anxious and depressed – isn’t that amazing? I avoid refined sugar and processed foods. I exercise 3-5 times per week. I lost some weight I didn’t need and I feel so much better, but I still experience loads of anxiety at times and I don’t wish to start on prescription medication. So what’s a girl to do?
What if we re-named anxiety as “an abundance of energy”?
Brainstorming. For some reason, when I think to myself, “Oh my God, I’m so anxious,” I feel like sitting down and quitting. My subconscious says to me, “I can’t do this.” But if I think, “Wow. Check out how much energy I have! I have an abundance of energy and I know just what to do with it,” all of a sudden, the energy feels totally different to my body and I start looking for solutions rather than presuming I can’t. Fantastic TED talk on how stress can be good for you.
I think there are many alternative methods that can contribute to living peacefully with “an abundance of energy”:
“There are a million things one might do with a block of wood, but Mahoney, what do you think might happen if someone just once believed in it?” Mr. Magorium, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
What do you think? If you have anxiety, what helps you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading!
Have you ever noticed that often the most generous, happiest people are those who have “nothing”? I found that was especially true of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns.
But how could they be happy when their friends and families had been murdered, jailed or exiled; their homes destroyed; ruled by a government that prohibits basic human rights?
She held my hand as we walked into the temple. We had just met, but the beautiful lady with the saffron robes and shaved head eagerly grabbed my hand as if we were playmates at recess. She gestured for me to sit next to her in the large meditation room where there sat a few dozen Tibetan Buddhist nuns ready to chant.
It was an odd picture, to be sure. A spattering of travel-clad westerners sitting, holding hands, with these bubbly Tibetan women in simple, maroon robes. The moment’s initial beauty was the tacit assumption that we westerners belonged there and that we were all old friends. And then the chanting began.
To say I cried would be an understatement. I wept. My heart broke open and tears of joy and relief, sadness and hope spilled out into the room… I had found my way Home.
It wasn’t that I needed to stay there with these lovely women. It was the example they lived – the utter joy and simplicity of it all – that I knew was bursting to come out of me!
Is there anything waiting to burst out of you? (And no, I don’t mean a bowel movement.)
I had always been too happy for people, too friendly, too “deep”. So I had toned it down. Day after day living a kind-of half truth. I thought that if I could make other people comfortable, it would bring me joy. But these brave women showed me that it was, in fact, the opposite: Only when I embraced the joy within me, could I possibly help to comfort others.
We didn’t speak the same verbal language, but we understood each other perfectly and I would never be the same again. For I had learned I wasn’t alone.
Seven years later on the other side of the world in a safe suburb of Kansas City, I’m still coming out of the spiritual closet. I know so much about faith and finding serenity, yet it can be hard to be content. Though uncomfortable, I think this discontent is actually good for me at times. Particularly because it led me here – to openly share my truth in the spirit of connecting with others.
What is your truth? Are you living it?
Thank God for the chance I had to witness those who seemingly have next to nothing, yet have everything. They showed me the way.
Serenity is yours.
When chaos looms seek the sweet
surrender of simplicity.
Gaze above at the glassy sky,
feel each blade of green
beneath your feet,
listen to the sound of faith
like a reed flute playing
inside your chest.
Stand in witness of
your true nature.
Remember the compassion
of the lover’s eyes,
the calm wisdom of
the elder’s voice.
Go within. Be at rest without.
Fall to your knees in gratitude.
You have all you need.
Turn from the riot of distraction.
Let it roll over and beyond you.
Serenity is yours.
It lives always within your reach.
– Ching Qu Lam
Our trip leader, Maureen St. Germain, with the kindest, happiest people I’ve ever met.
Baby Goats and Monks with Kittens, as promised in Part I
Visiting the Potala Palace, the former seat of the Tibetan government and residence of the Dalai Lama, was bittersweet, but apparently it remains in good hands. While roaming the grand palace I noticed a guard dressed in all black petting a tiny, purring kitten. But this guard was no ordinary man. He radiated so much joy and peace that his presence froze me in my tracks with my mouth open in a stupefied gaze. It turns out my instincts were right: when the gates of tourism were re-opened, China hired monks to be the janitors and guards of the palace.
As for the goats, they really were adorable.
The Four Immeasureables
May all beings be endowed with happiness;
May all beings be free from suffering;
May all beings never be separated from happiness;
and may all beings abide in equanimity, undisturbed by the eight worldly concerns.
For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain,
until then may we, too, abide to dispel the misery of the world.
– Rime Buddhist Center’s “A Buddhist Service” guide
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
I actually took the picture below. It was hard to get it wrong…
Since 1951, China’s occupation of Tibet has killed an estimated 1.2 million Tibetans (1/5 of their population) and forced over 100,000 Tibetans into exile. Six thousand monasteries and historic buildings were destroyed. And an indigenous culture steeped in Buddhism was scattered to the winds with its people.
A Buddhist Allegory
There was once a farmer whose horse ran away. His neighbors lamented his “bad luck”, but the farmer merely shrugged his shoulders. The next morning the farmer awoke to find his horse had returned with three wild horses. His neighbors rejoiced, but the farmer was unmoved. When the farmer’s son began to ride one of the wild horses he fell off and broke his leg. The neighbors lamented; the farmer shrugged his shoulders. The next day all able-bodied young men in the village were drafted into the army, but the son’s leg was broken and he was was unable to go. The neighbors rejoiced and the farmer again shrugged his shoulders.
Equanimity, or the ability to be even-tempered, is a virtue long encouraged by Buddhists and its application would be well used here. Though a people and its history were uprooted by violence, these very atrocities opened the world to a philosophy of living largely unexplored and beckoned many of us eastward… and inward. The Buddhist culture reached me during my Freshman year of college in Seattle, Washington. Six years later, I found myself on an unexpected journey with a group of companions I’d never met to visit the Rooftop of the World…
Please stay tuned for Part II where I’ll be talking about baby goats, monks with kittens and a visit with Tibetan Buddhist nuns that changed my life forever.
Wind-whipped prayer flags on a Himalayan mountain pass.
I once heard a comedian say, “What my ass looks like is none of my business. There’s a reason God put it behind me.”
Like most youth around the world, I grew up in a culture where external beauty mattered and was clearly defined. In my culture, beauty was determined by thinness, the symmetry of one’s face and nice teeth. External beauty got you friends, boyfriends and an easy confidence. It also spoke of sameness, a sense of belonging and importance. If you were different, life could be a rough road. And so… most of my days were spent trying to fit in, trying to be “normal”.
“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage! ” Practical Magic
It was on one of those rough roads when my differences turned to depression. In a culture where self-worth is largely defined by external beauty I found myself asking an incessant series of questions about my body. You know the questions:
This self-depreciating effort was combined with media and commerce bent on lowering my self esteem to increase profits. Have you ever looked at your skin in a magnified mirror? WTF? It makes small dark pores look like international conflicts, thus making us want to buy clear pore strips. Whose bright idea was the magnified mirror? Someone who wanted us to buy it.
The good news about hard times is that with optimism and perseverance you can have breakthroughs. With help from books like Love is Letting Go of Fear and Letting Go, one begins to see one’s own beauty as intrinsic and permanent. The incessant worrying, tummy-sucking-in and posturing can be laid to rest. It’s no longer necessary to be angry at advertisements with emaciated models or a system that emphasizes what you may lack to get you to buy things. At some point in life, you start to see yourself from the inside out. And you just know you are beautiful and worthy of love, and nothing external can ever change that. And on PMS-y days when you feel ugly or unworthy, you laugh and remind yourself that we are not who we have been trained to think we are. We are spiritual beings having a human experience – not the other way around.
A few years back I overhead a Christian radio show that asked its listeners: What would you see if when you looked in the mirror you could see yourself as God sees you?
And? What do you see?
Here’s a nice little article to remind you you’re beautiful and that there is no right way to be beautiful: Ideal Body Types in 9 Countries
And lastly, my go-to mantra if a PMS pity party starts to form: I am holy as we are all holy. Everything’s just as it should be. I’m already Home. 🙂
12 noon – “Oh my God! This is so awesome! I’m backpacking by myself into the desert [Big Dominguez Canyon in Colorado]. Go me!”
4:00 pm – “I can so do this! I can’t wait to see the stars.”
6:00 pm – “I think canned tuna sounds good for dinner. I’m so smart, I even brought a tiny manual can opener from REI.”
9:00 pm – “It’s getting dark, but this is gonna be awe-some. I’m alone and I can do this. I think I’ll go to bed.”
11:00 pm – “Umm, it’s really dark outside. Why the f*ck did I eat tuna for dinner? Don’t I know that cougars live here and cats eat tuna?”
1:00 am – “F*ck it all. I can’t sleep. I really want to see the stars, but now I’m terrified. There’s probably a big cat outside my tent waiting to eat me. And then I’ll die and my parents will be mad at me for being in the wild by myself.”
Despite my downward fear spiral, I was determined to make it out of my tent and see those celestial bodies. I’ve always felt at Home when I look at the night sky and now that I was as far as I’d ever been from civilization, it was time.
So, in order to exit the tent in complete safety I decided to gear up: I put my headlamp on high beam (determined to stun the cat), held the mace my mom once gave me for running in my right hand (we’re an “always prepared” bunch as you can tell), an open pocket knife in my left hand and REI’s Tri-Power Safety Whistle in my mouth – I was ready.
It dawns on me now that this is a moment of my history that should perhaps remain a silent part of history, but then again where would we be if we hid these fabulously awkward parts of ourselves? No where fun.
I slowly unzipped my tent, listened, unzipped it some more and listened some more. I heard the sound of rushing water from a nearby river, the sweet chirping of thousands of insects and the oceanic hush of tall grass blowing in the breeze. My heart still racing, I stepped out one foot and then the other. Turned off my headlamp. Closed my eyes. Listened. Breathed… and realized I really had to pee.
With bathroom needs taken care of, the blithe Cottonwood tree next to my tent proved as comforting and reassuring a friend as any. I leaned against it’s weather-worn trunk (still hoping there wasn’t a cat in the branches) and slowed my breathing until I joined the world that I had been visiting.
The water’s not so bad once you get in.
So much happened that night. But mostly: I talked to God… and God talked back.
In the suburbs I had largely forgotten how to listen. How to connect authentically with life for that matter. There was a professional version of me and then there was this giant kid inside that watches Ever After over and over, and wants to go to Harry Potter Land. I had felt separate save for a few dear friends and family that “get me”. Yet we are not alone; we are never alone.
I found a piece of me that night. The piece that says “I’m [God in me is] awesome and it’s time to play!”
My tent and the tree that watched over me:
What I found when I got up the next morning:
Thank God for such a beautiful, safe night of insomnia alone in the desert. Life is awesome. We are all awesome.
I’ve often thought that our world was built for extraverts. This is a wonderful reminder to just be ourselves.
Hello. My name’s Ruth and I am an introvert.
Would you believe that it has taken me 31 years to say that?
Most of those years have been taken up with saying other things. No, I’m not anti-social. No, I’m not shy. No, it’s not that I hate people, or that I hate you, or that I’m a badly brought up Awkward Annie.
I’m just an introvert.
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I recently fled home. It was an exercise in abandonment and freedom. A way of discovering and listening. I tried to not want to go. The belief being that the happiest person on the planet is the one who desires nothing.
But then… there was this voice – always the same voice – that told me it was time and I had to leave.
Truth be told the “voice” started when I was young. There was a time as a child when nothing “fit”. I didn’t “fit” and I never thought I would. Suicide was strongly considered, but then there was this voice and a vision. It told me I had to stay. That I had work to do here and people to help. I saw a vision of a solid oak podium and knew that I would one day speak or teach.
Do you have a voice inside? What does your say?
Sometimes I miss Home. There’s a sadness inside that speaks of an easier world. One where people greet each other kindly and speak gently. A world where love flows like water – accessible, nourishing the soul throughout the day. A world where I’m not counting down the hours at work until I arrive at a place where I feel safe, where I feel home.
And so I followed my recent inner voice and left for a trip. Eight days of driving from Denver to Moab and back. It was a solo camping trip, a vision quest of sorts, but it could more accurately be described as cleaning out the basement. Tucked-away thoughts, over-looked impressions, and intuitions of heart-filling purpose were looked into, carefully sorted, and either kept or discarded.
Why do we stop listening?
I once read this book, Conversations with God, and it confirmed to me that I am not alone in this. We all have a direct channel to God (or “Spirit”, if you prefer). And here we are in worlds of our own creation. Like in The Secret, the world is listening, awaiting our direction.
Assume the miraculous.
It sounds like I’m spiritual book-dropping now, but if you’ve read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, then you’ll know that at one point she mentions how the heavens opened up to her and she knew to her core that, “God dwells within you as you.”
I’ll tie this – my very first – post up by imploring you to listen to your inner wisdom. Sometimes a person can be happy when they let go of their desires, but sometimes it’s important to listen and follow them. If you make the time to get quiet, and I mean really quiet (with no attachments or aversions to the outcome), I think you will be pleasantly surprised to find that the answers will bubble up from within.
What do I already know to be true?
Am I content? And if not, what do I really want?
What is my purpose?
May love light your way,