During the winter, there’s a lot more people poking around my apartment complex. The landlord has a team of friendly snow removing gentlemen who shovel the stairs and plow the parking lots. Although, I really appreciate the dudes who make my world much easier to traverse, they make me nervous. I can hear them plodding up the stairs, scraping and bumping, and the noise causes this vibration in the walls that sounds like the building will collapse. When they want you to move your car so they can plow, they get in their trucks and lay on the horns creating a dissonance that is highly motivating to get me moving. If you don’t move your car fast enough, they start knocking on doors. I can hear and feel their heavy stomps up the stairs and the reverberation through the walls, and this anxiety starts to build within me.
Yesterday morning amidst the cacophony of horns, scraping plows and shovels, and stomping feet, I scattered around our apartment trying to find a matching glove. My foot got stuck half way into my snow boot because I didn’t loosen the laces enough. As I squeezed and grunted my foot into a too-tiny opening, the pounding of steps outside grew louder. I felt the shaking of the walls and the floors, and this sharp wave of heat spreads over my body. I started praying to any diety that would listen (Julia of Corsica is the patron saint of foot pathologies, FYI) for this DAMN. BOOT. TO…JUST… GRRRRRR.
Okay, my boot was on and haphazardly laced, and I fled my apartment to rush to my car. I wildly brushed five inches of snow off the roof of it, but the wind swirls about two inches of it backwards onto my car. All I can hear is the scraping of the snow plow on asphalt and my heartbeat in my chest. I am singularly focused on this task. Must remove snow, so that I can move car. Must move car so men can plow. Men must plow so I don’t have to hear them scraping, plodding, and knocking. Must remove noise so I can remove anxiety.
I had successfully removed enough snow to move my car down the street, and as I placed my car in park I could feel how anxious I had become: this sense of urgency, sweating, and heart racing. I walked back up to my apartment and start Googling patron saints of foot pathologies. In an effort to occupy my brain, I began to tidy the living room and kitchen. My husband arrived from moving his car, and he seemed chipper. It’s almost like the sight of men and the sound of them destroying the four walls of our domicile didn’t make him nervous at all. He’s obviously insane, right? Probably sensing my continued nervousness, he stood with open arms to embrace me. I gave probably the most reluctant hug possible, not because I don’t want a hug, but because my body feels like I need to run, hide, or kick ass…not hug.
After the plow guys were long gone, the anxiety remained. All the rushing was supposed to end the nervousness, but I still physically felt as if I was in danger. I mentally understood that I was safe; yet the feeling of being threatened remained. I even tried the very tested and not very true method of just telling my old brain to knock it off already because this feeling didn’t make any damn sense. That also…did not work. It remained after all of my attempts to distract myself: Facebook, Googling saints even though I’m not religious, cleaning, hugging, and even writing this very post. As I was writing this exact post, it dawned on me. Oh. I needed to stop everything and breathe. No more typing, the Facebooking, and frantically scrubbing dishes. I needed to just sit (sit and breathe to be exact). Usually about 10 deep breaths does the trick, and it takes about five before I can notice any difference. It works even faster if I can get out of my judgmental mindset. (e.g. Am I crazy? Why am I like this? Stop being weird, you weirdo!)
What is so powerful about sitting and breathing, is that you begin to notice and connect in to your own body, and eventually you become aware of your own efforts to avoid that same connection. I originally was rushing around because I thought that doing what the plow guys wanted would make them leave; therefore, I would be less anxious. When that didn’t happen, the cleaning and internet surfing were supposed to help, but they were just distractions that put off feeling my present feelings. And regardless what certain self-help authors and motivational speakers say, you cannot talk your body out of having physical sensation, only the ability to connect to it. Thus far, telling my body to stop sweating and having palpitations hasn’t worked, but noticing how I feel in the present moment, connecting to my body instead of reaching for distraction, and breathing does. Learning to use it is still a practice. I spent about 20 whole minutes of frantically scurrying about before I remembered…oh yeah, stop. Be here.
It’s such a simple solution, but I still have times when feeling how I feel seems like a harrowing feat. I can say from experience that it is a practice that requires bravery and an open mind. It’s also a process that has me questioning many of my behaviors. (Oh, I didn’t really want a cookie; I just wanted to feel acceptable. I did want to go to that social gathering, but I stayed at home because I was afraid of rejection. This shirt doesn’t make me look fat; I’m just afraid of being seen.) Having that kind of honesty with myself sometimes feels like a punch to the gut, but I think the pain of knowing how I delve out suffering to myself is much less scary than the pain of blindly stumbling through the world afraid and alone. In my experience, my anxiety is my body’s way of keeping me safe from the perceived dangers of the world. My ability to sit and be present with my anxiety creates the safety I seek within me.