I sat down to write this article a few times, but each time resulted in me staring at a blank screen and feeling blocked. Even though, when I received the job ad—smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic—I had instantly known my topic. Yet, there I sat, reviewing submission guidelines and other articles on the website in hopes of finding inspiration. Instead, all that I found was a greater void and confusion.
How can such a passionate and authentic desire to write and share result in the lack of movement of ideas? This phenomenon can be summed up in one word: anxiety.
Anxiety is a normal thing that everyone experiences, to some degree. Its main function is to alert us of any threats to our survival, in order to keep us safe. Although real threats to safety are its main itinerary, it can also surface when there is merely a perceived risk, like having to speak in public or write a test or paper. At times, anxiety can be a chronic condition that directly stems from or is complicated by trauma.
I have felt anxiety for most of my life, caused by developmental trauma I experienced as a child. Combined with accumulated chronic stress and trauma collected throughout my lifetime, it eventually led to a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety and PTSD.
Ride the waves and hope for the best
Throughout my life, my level of functioning has fluctuated, depending on circumstances. At times, my symptoms have been dormant, as though I had no condition at all. At other times, they have revealed themselves as insomnia, illness, panic attacks, racing thoughts, stomach upset, claustrophobia and agoraphobia.
Over the last few years, as my condition rapidly progressed, I found it difficult to explain to people what was happening, and even professionals didn’t seem to understand or have answers. The best way to explain it was that my system was shutting down, and I was no longer the captain of my vessel. My only choice was to ride the waves and hope for the best.
I went from highly functioning and successful, to not being able to do even the simplest tasks. I was unable to return to work (the initial point of impact). I found myself with breathing issues, oscillating between panic and freeze attacks, and feeling a constant state of dread and despair that affected my sleep, my appetite and my lust for life.
I felt paralyzed, at times, in my body and my mind—similar to writer’s block, but instead, being permanently frozen in that place. These symptoms made life feel scary and impossible, as if I was regularly in severe danger and my survival was under threat.
The numerous attacks lead to an inability to leave the house, and some days, even my couch. The me that I identify with is not this state. The me who loves life, nature, people, and travel, and who has so many hopes, dreams and goals still existed inside this broken vessel… trapped and yet aware of itself.
You would think that with a major world crisis such as the Coronavirus pandemic, I would currently be in this state. However, since this has unfolded, I am actually doing quite well. This is somewhat of a surprise to me.
Being a wellness practitioner, a passion of mine is healing and health. Most of my clan are like-minded individuals who dedicate a lot of time to self-inquiry. We are constantly doing inner healing work, while also treating clients.
It is safe to say that like many in the Western world, on paper, we might qualify for diagnoses such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorders, but the incorrect inference that could be made from this is that we are weak, defective or in need of extensive accommodations.
The ‘sky is falling’ feeling
The truth is that even among the daily challenges we face, we are not the ones who are manically buying up toilet paper, experiencing hysteria or expressing panic in these very troubling times.
This article is not about shaming those who are included in the above, but it is written to de-stigmatize mental disorders and unveil how they can be a great gift, as well as promoting resilience and modelling fearlessness.
The main reason that we are not panicking is because people with anxiety always feel how others feel right now. For some of us, we enter a ‘crisis’ situation on a daily basis. We know the ‘sky is falling’ feeling all too well, and can actually get to that level of alarm from otherwise non-triggering words or events.
Some days, a simple lack of tone in text can have us climbing the walls, searching for the underlying meaning, until we can become grounded enough to simply ask for clarification.
Due to these regular experiences, when faced with a true emergency, our nervous system is aligned and familiar with the chaos. For us, the chaos is not the trigger, the lack of it is. However, it is exhausting to have these minds and bodies that constantly identify danger and are never able to dismantle the alarm. It is a relief to have a real reason for our feelings, and when faced with true adversity, we are well-equipped and ready to take action.
Given the sensitivity of our nervous system, many of us live with chronic physical symptoms that require maintenance. We are highly skilled in preventive care, as well as acute and chronic treatment, because in order to achieve our bigger goals, health has to be our focus, as balance is quickly lost without it. Our conditions have essentially trained us as healing architects. Due to our constant need to find the source of our feelings, we are often some of the best employees and students.
We love accomplishing because we have some control over our symptoms through this. We are at times adrenaline junkies, feeding off the pressure we put on ourselves. When a task is successfully completed, whether it be a work project or another step towards a degree, our symptoms will pacify because this is a checkpoint of safety. The threat is gone, and we can rest until the alarm sounds again.
Due to our experience with suffering, we are also compassionate and selfless people. We are protective of those we care about and empathetic to others who are navigating their own healing journeys. We operate with a great amount of integrity and genuinely care about the greater good of all.
What we can control
In times of uncertainty, we are prepared to protect and battle for everyone. We are skilled in knowing our capacity and doing what we need to maintain it. We are in tune with our bodies. We rest when we need to, work to boost our immunity and prioritize our energies. We have allies in acceptance and calm.
When I heard about COVID-19, I was not panicked. I instead focused on what I could control. When I found out about school closures, I paused and processed the news. I took a breath and grounded myself, and logically decided to go get enough supplies for the next two weeks. I also stocked up on entertainment from the library to keep us busy. It was all done from a strategic, grounded place. We braved the crowded grocery stores, and while observing others in states of reactivity and distress, we stayed rooted.
Even as my daughter had a panic attack caused by this overload, I stayed firm, reflecting on how our present actions were affecting our children. I proactively contemplated how we might use this experience to transcend, rather than traumatize, the younger generation.
I pondered how we could use it as a time to undo and heal the collective ancestral trauma we all carry from immigration, wars, racism, sexism, poverty and abuse. How could we use these times to give birth to post-traumatic growth?
Fearlessness is not being without fear when in you’re the storm, but instead, it is having the ability to find a balance of rootedness, presence and surrender when outcomes are uncertain.
I have not been without emotion during these times. I have experienced shock, fear and sadness, but this isn’t because of an anxiety disorder. It is because this pandemic is a lot, for all of us. These times breed much uncertainty, and uncertainty is an opportune environment for anxiety to procreate. It would be abnormal if we did not possess the tendency to lean into this.
As a person with an anxiety disorder, what I have learned throughout this period is that because of my deficiencies, I have the strength to navigate this. I have found that my disorder has not stopped people from reaching out to seek support from me. If anything, most people are doing this. It has also not prevented others from offering me support.
I have never felt more unconditionally loved or held. The magnitude of this situation is hitting everyone, and no one will be left untouched, regardless of what criteria they meet.
We are all in this together. And together is the only way through.
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