The last few weeks have been a bit of a rollercoaster. Not one of those fun ones where you’re whooping with the excitement of the adrenalin rush but one where each day brings either a pit of tiredness and anxiety or a lighter, brighter mood and you’re never sure which one it’s going to be. I had a bit of a Chronic Fatigue crash – well timed for the first day of the kids being off for Easter… I’d been feeling a lot less tired and in my excitement and just overwhelming desire for it to mean I was really getting better, I did too much. No I didn’t go for a 10km run or party all night. Over a week I did the school run twice, watched my daughter’s swimming gala, watched her play violin in assembly and sat at a friend’s house party for one hour. All things I took for granted 9 months ago but now I would give anything to do without it taking 3 weeks to recover from. There’s another whole blog about gratitude right there…
Anyway I was struggling to get myself out of my pit – until my husband suggested I read some of my blogs and practice what I preach! That led me to a couple of things that have really helped so I want to share them.
The first is an inspiring TED Talk by Michael Neill called ‘Why Aren’t We Awesomer?’, from which I’ve quoted above. He explains that a thought isn’t real, it’s just a thought we have in the moment. And anxiety is essentially being afraid of the thought. Anxiety may not be pleasant (ok understatement of the year) but anxiety itself isn’t dangerous and it’s not going to kill you. Anxiety is generally the thought of something that might happen. Theres a link to the full talk at the end of my blah blahing – I can’t do it justice here and I highly recommend watching it. Daily. It takes time and practice to re-wire your thinking, so you can’t expect to read something or watch it once and ta da that’s it, anxiety no longer a problem. It takes commitment, like anything important.
The second thing that really helped me was learning to re-write my story. It’s basically the same premise- that we can choose how we think about our lives and experiences. Or the stories we tell ourselves. I literally took a sheet of paper and re-wrote the story of my dad dying when I was younger. The story I’ve always had in my head was one of guilt, helplessness, anger, hurt, frustration at not being able to keep him alive, being overwhelmed, unable to cope, being scared of my intense emotions and of course immense sadness.
I re-wrote the hell out of that story. I replaced guilt with the knowledge that I had done everything I could, that I did my best. I replaced helplessness with the fact that I was a child, I wasn’t a doctor and I did all I could – which was love him intensely and will him to live with every fibre of my being. I realised there was immense bravery – I didn’t allow it to break me. I saw there was kindness – I didn’t want to upset other people by showing my grief. I accepted that my feelings and emotions were a natural reaction to a traumatic event – that they are a natural and important part of life, something to be felt, not hidden away. I embraced everything that I felt, because it made me, me.
It has made me kind, empathetic, strong, sensitive, loving. A survivor. It has shaped my values, priorities, goals and dreams. I am who I am because I got knocked down but I got back up. Just like I will again.
Interestingly, the other day I was asked what had happened to my dad. For the first time, I think ever, I could tell the story without it bringing tears to my eyes. I told it with love.
So what does this all have to do with anxiety? Well anxiety is just a thought. And with work and practice, thoughts can be changed. I don’t mean to make it sound that easy or belittle it. I know anxiety and it’s stubborn and overwhelming. But I do think there are ways we can lessen its impact.
Here’s the link I promised you, hope it works as I’m rubbish at these things. If not just google ‘TED Talks why aren’t we awesomer’.