20 minutes

Let’s split up.
She says it without malice or force,
and the words fall like
an act of kindness.

Warmth drains from his cheeks
into the wind; the red rock surrounding them
absorbs the dying light. His heart
a painful fist.

Then she
is handing him
the keys to the Honda
and saying 20 minutes,
and tilting her head in question

Air finds his lungs,
expand, contract
oxygen, CO2
in, out
rhythmic footfalls like a pulse
rinse the panic from his veins
nodding away the fear
20 minutes

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Fear of Falling, Fear of Open Sky

P1030194

I peer over the edge, feet planted
firmly on rock.
Where did this fear come from?
My hands quiver. I worry
I will fall straight off the face of the Earth.
I am scared I will fly into the abyss,
lose control
in my panicking.
My knees knock with fright.
It’s hard to look up at all the mountain peaks
surrounding me, even though they are
so beautiful, so majestic.
Hard to breathe.
Hard to swallow.
My heart is racing.
I used to be able to do this.
Now I feel unsafe.
I try to breathe deep and slow,
fight the urge to cling to the meager,
scrappy weeds pushing up through the granite.
But if I sit down,
the sky might crush me.
I might not be able to get up ever again.
Tears start to drop from my cheeks
more quickly. I’m frustrated.
So frustrated that I can’t do this.
I want to be okay.
I want to feel comfortable here.
I can’t stop sobbing
and feeling helpless.
Why do I feel unsafe
when there is stable ground beneath my feet?

Fear from the window

Throw open the curtains of fear and doubt–
your eyes take in your future as they look out.
The window glass heavy and tainted with time,
the Three Fates are weaving line after line.
Breathe in bright hope and hold your lungs full,
for resignation calls out with a leaded-hand pull.
Ask fire from your lovers and strength from your friends,
for none of us knows if this fear ever ends.

Do What Scares You Until You Aren’t Afraid Anymore

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

This is an inspirational quote I’ve seen on posters, bags, coffee mugs, and calendars. Sometimes we need to be reminded that difficult and wonderful things happen outside of our comfort zones. It’s healthy to challenge ourselves.

But when I’m experiencing a period of chronic and severe anxiety, I must do many things that scare me each day. Things that many people take for granted; e.g., riding a bus.

I think public transportation makes me anxious because I am not in control and am unable to exit whenever I want to. Having a panic attack on a city bus once (seemingly out of nowhere) kicked off this fear. I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding riding buses and worrying about the various things that might go wrong on a bus.

OH GOD! THE BUS![seattletransitblog.com]

OH GOD! THE BUS! [seattletransitblog.com]

To give you a peek into my mind, I wrote up a list of potential scenarios I honestly do imagine and consider when boarding a bus.

  • What if someone gets carsick? Do they evacuate the bus if someone vomits?
  • What if I feel nauseous? Should I get off? Or wait to see how bad it gets?
  • How long should I wait to get off if I start to feel panicky? Will I get on the next bus? Will I call someone to pick me up?
  • What if I miss my stop?
  • What if we get stuck in traffic and they won’t let me off?
  • What if I’m panicking, and I ask the driver to let me off, and they won’t?

I have a lot of worry in my head all the time, and that is only a small example.

Thankfully, my anxiety about buses has decreased considerably since I decided to try exposure therapy. It may sound fancy, but this only refers to intentionally placing someone in a situation or with an object they fear. This can be done in small steps, big steps, or through flooding, which is when someone is immersed in a situation they fear. For someone with a spider phobia, this would be equivalent to picking up a tarantula with their bare hands. Exposure therapy is highly effective for people with agoraphobia.

No… no, thank you. [tripadvisor.com]

To expose myself to riding buses, I bought an all-day bus pass a few weeks ago and rode different lines all over town for 3 hours. It was not easy in the beginning. I needed to focus on breathing deeply, distracting myself with music, and repeating affirmations. The affirmation I used that day was “I am a badass, boss bitch.” Hey, whatever works… I had to ride out those scary panicking feelings: the racing heart, the shallow breathing, the sensory changes, the feeling out of control. Over time these feelings lessened more and more. By the end of 3 hours I felt so empowered and fearless! It was awesome. Now I hardly hesitate when I step aboard a city bus.

I have, or at least, have had in the past, some combination of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and agoraphobia. I cannot articulate how frustrating it has been to struggle with these pests. It sucks. It is horrible to shut people out because you feel afraid of doing the most basic things, like going for a walk. UGH.

But there is light. I’ve been trying to consistently challenge myself and expose myself to situations that make me anxious. Today I confronted my anxiety about bridges.

Tell me you wouldn’t be nervous driving over this. [wikipedia.org]

I didn’t do anything crazy. I just walked back and forth across a long boardwalk, chanting, “I’m totally normal. Just a normal person out for an evening stroll on a boardwalk! So normal, it’s boring.” In the past few months, my fear of open places coupled with my fear of being trapped (agoraphobia and claustrophobia, working together!) has made it extremely difficult for me to cross bridges, especially this particular boardwalk.

But tonight I had the help of pharmacotherapy. Drugs! I had taken a small amount of Ativan as a safety cushion and to help ease my mind. I also clutched the orange pill bottle in my fist as I paced back and forth on the boardwalk. Just for comfort.

And guess what– it worked!

I crossed twice, there and back both times, with no panic attacks. The Ativan helped dull my racing heart and panicky feelings, giving me the confidence to push myself further. I even sung out cheerily to a fisherman: “Don’t mind me! Just doing some exposure therapy because I’m afraid of bridges!” Yeah… I really did say that. And he responded that facing a fear is the best way to overcome it!

Remember to breathe.

Remember to breathe.

Exposure therapy is a slow process, but it has been working marvelously for me as I address specific components of my anxiety.

Does anyone else struggle with chronic, severe anxiety? What’s helped you?

She

She was a child with a fear of fire.
She was a child with dreams of art
and nightmares of death
and dying and killing.

She became a woman with a story
clutched to her chest.
She was a woman always walking,
and sometimes faltering,
but never stopping.

She becomes a master of solitude.
She is like a deep lake;
emerald near the shore and
the color of lapis lazuli at the center.

It is painful to know fear so intimately.
It is exhausting to embrace it,
to cradle it in your arms.
Still, she tries
and tries.

Fear of Loneliness

P1010274

There are common paths my mind travels upon,
certain slow, lonely longing meanders in the woods.
We all crave belonging. It’s a long life,
despite the years flashing past like
scenes from a speeding train window, blurring.

Well, we all travel anxious hallways some days,
searching for familiar faces and growing
terrified of being left and forgotten, unwanted.
Of ceasing to breathe on a cold city sidewalk,
passerby streaming by with not even a glance.

So on these winding paths, I must remember:
We are all alone and all afraid,
we all want to be loved,
and in this we are together.