I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Panic Attack

Panic or Exhilaration? Your Choice.

b5

Viparita Dandasana

When I wrote my previous post, I was on a yoga HIGH. So high that I glossed over the moment where I almost had a panic attack. Almost. But didn’t. Maybe that’s why I was so exhilarated?

I’m not prone to panic attacks, so this was unusual, but I do tend to be anxious. Spend a few minutes in my brain around 2:17 am or 8:01 am or 3:33 pm or 9:15 pm and you’d be anxious also. It’s a constant struggle, alternating between worry that I am not good enough, fear that something bad will happen, and fantasizing about an unrealistic future.  It goes something like this:

What if I get fired? I wonder if I could make a living with writing, teaching, and Reiki? What if we lost the house? My husband would leave me. Where would I live? Would I stay in New York or move somewhere else? Back to D.C.? Why isn’t my father answering the phone? What if he is dead? How am I going to deal with the house and all his stuff when he dies? I want to be near the kids. My son thinks I love my daughter more than I love him. I am a terrible mother. How could I let that happen? Dammit. I need sleep! So I don’t lose my job. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. Try chanting. Abahu purusakaram. I forgot to water the plants.

And so on. However, after years of therapy and years of yoga, I’ve discovered a secret. For me, anxiety is a habit, a go-to emotion that I can change, not a disability that is inherent in my nature. It’s a learned response based on my upbringing and how my parents dealt with their anxiety and enabled my anxiety. It’s gotten me out of stuff I didn’t want to do and gotten other people to take care of me. And, let’s face it, anxiety is a terrific motivator! (If it doesn’t paralyze you.) We all have anxiety. It’s what we do with it that can make the difference between living a circumspect life versus a more open and courageous life. My biggest fear is that I will die regretting that I didn’t do more. Well, no, my biggest fear is that I will lose a child. And that is the worst anxiety that grips me at 2:17 am.

Back to my almost panic attack. After we worked on lifting our ankles and stretching our armpits, among other things, we did some back-bending poses. Back-bending poses alleviate depression and are exhilarating, though they can increase anxiety. I was a textbook case on Monday. We did a pose, similar to the one pictured above, where we used the chair to support and encourage lengthening and flexibility in the back, opening our chest, throat, and neck.   With a more familiar teacher and class, I might have stopped myself.

Sometimes, you need to get out of your comfort zone and do something different. Hear differently. See differently.

The teacher looked at me as I was wiggling my way into the chair, oh-so-cautiously preparing for the pose. (Frankly I was procrastinating.) He said he thought it might be good for my neck, providing a stretch, not a compression (as in headstand, which I currently don’t do). I was skeptical. And afraid, but proceeded. I got into the pose, and gently let my head lean backwards. My neck, throat, and heart open. Exposed.

That’s when the panic arose.

Whoa! My head is heavy. Body scan. Does this hurt? I don’t think so. But it should hurt! Breath tightens, fear arises. Is it okay? Body scan. Does this hurt? I don’t think so. But it should hurt! Breath tightens, fear arises. Can I get out of the pose? When can I get out of the pose? What if I can’t get out of the pose? Breath tightens, fear arises. Should I ask for help? He’s busy helping other students. Maybe I should get out of the pose. I need help! Breath tightens, fear arises. God Damn Iyengar Yoga. Why do they hold poses for so long? Body scan. Hmmm, maybe it doesn’t hurt. Breathe. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. Oh! I think I just felt my ear open up a bit. No, I must get out of this pose. Now! I’m going to regret this tomorrow. What if I really hurt myself? Breathe. Oh! I just felt my neck release. When is this pose going to end? How am I going to lift my head out of this pose without hurting myself? I must get out of this pose. Now! Breathe. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. Oh! My neck released some more. Phew. Pose is over. I am not doing it again. There’s no fucking way I’m doing this again. But. How about that. Hmmm. I did it!

That’s when the exhilaration arose.

There is new research released recently that studied the brains of people undergoing stress and anxiety. The brains of highly resilient people were demonstrated to acknowledge the stress and anxiety but to dampen the response. Those who were not resilient, who succumbed to the panic, didn’t respond to the anxiety and the stress until it was too late. Breathing became difficult and they overreacted, making the situation worse. One conclusion is that through mindful breathing exercises, you can become more tuned into your reactions and more able to control your response without overreacting.

Breathe. Feel. Feel fear. Feel panic. Feel exhilaration. Feel love. Feel joy. Breathe.

Photo Credit:  Viparita Dandasana by Bobby Clennell

 

Yogini Guru

Plutchik-wheel

Help!  Get Me Out of This Tight Spot!

I am angry.  At my yoga teacher, Yogini Guru.  Which is a little like being angry at your therapist, or your most honest and compassionate best friend, or even a generous stranger doing you a favor, when they hold you accountable and don’t cater to your neediness.  Because they love you and want you to be your true self.

I have decided that identifying that I feel anger is a positive sign of personal growth.  Instead of numbing low-grade depression or frenetic ruminating anxiety, I now feel anger!  At everyone!  Constantly!  Is there a diagnosis of Generalized Anger Disorder in the new DSM-5 just released?  Because I am angry at the ubiquity of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and ready to free myself of that label – the one that has been with me for 30+ years – ready to free myself of being a good girl seeking the approval of others.

Yogini Guru doesn’t know I am angry.  I haven’t told her.  She probably would not be surprised.  She knows me pretty well.  I imagine her laughing knowingly or hugging me with acceptance and compassion or simply wondering why I wouldn’t just talk to her directly.  My reasons are based on old habits and are constructs in my mind.  I have twisted what she has said and fabricated what she is thinking in my mind and haven’t given her the opportunity to be her self.  For what it’s worth, Yogini Guru is petite, funny, self-deprecating, inclusive, loving, supportive and not at all austere.  I want her to tell me I’m good, a good yoga teacher, but she knows I need to feel my worth without her validation.

After graduating from the 200-hour yoga teacher training program that she directs – essentially a masters degree without the bells and whistles of academia – and apprenticing with a more experienced teacher, I auditioned to teach for Yogini Guru.  I was nervous, serious and stiff.  She stopped me after just a few minutes and we discussed what I needed to work on.  Chagrined (and angry), I wondered if I would ever be a teacher worthy of teaching at her studio.  This is the type of obstacle – feedback that suggests I am less than perfect – where I feel overwhelmed and give up.  Rejected! Fuck You!  I quit!  But I love yoga.  I love Yogini Guru.  I knew this was another crucial crossroads where I have given up in the past.  I had to fight through it.  It was time to move past depending on others’ evaluation of me to feel good about my self.  It was time to feel good about my self.

What I imagined I heard from Yogini Guru:  You are a terrible teacher.  Worse than I realized.  You are a failure.

What she actually said:  I like your theme.  Your assists are good.  Your students trust you.  Eliminate the repetitive language so that you are more succinct.  Keep practicing.  You’re not ready yet.  Have fun and be joyful.

Another year later.  (Personal growth takes a long time.)  I am teaching once a week at a near-by gym refining my teaching skills and my teaching style and nurturing my growing group of beloved students.  I have signed on to take a 30-hour continuing education module of teacher training.  With Yogini Guru of course.  One of the requirements is that I video myself teaching a class and critique it.  Then she critiques it.  Good God.  This is torture.  What if I am still not good enough?  I schedule time in her studio to video myself, inviting some of my regulars to be my students for this videoed class.  I succumb to my anxiety and tense up.  The class is well-designed, but flat.  I am too mechanical.

I reach out to Yogini Guru:  What is the goal of this video?  Can we work with my stiff anxiety or should I keep trying?

I wanted reassurance:  Oh Sally.  I can’t wait to see your video!  I am sure it will be fine.  Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.  We’ll talk about it.

Instead, she is holding me accountable for the decision and not catering to my neediness.  She said it was my decision.  After spending three days alternately fuming, panicking, and on the precipice of giving up – which would sabotage my potential for success – I videoed a second class – my regular class at the gym.  It’s not perfect and it is a less well-designed class than the first video, but I was my self.  And that is all I can be.  My anger (at least at Yogini Guru) is resolved.  After all, she has done nothing except be true to her self and compassionate to me.  She deserves the same from me.  Besides, if and when I teach at her studio, there will always be another challenge, another obstacle, another achievement, another rejection.  I need to do this for my self.  Not for her or anyone else.  Which changes my perspective on the process.  If I am not attached to her evaluation of me as a teacher, what is my goal for teaching?  Can I enjoy teaching for the sake of sharing my yoga with others and feel confident, in my grounded self, that yes indeed I am a good teacher?

Thanks on the road to personal growth goes not only to the teachers, therapists and coaches, family, friends and enemies (they always have lessons), but also to the random strangers who help you along the way.  The other day, as I was leaving an early morning session with my therapist – who was encouraging me to voice my anger in a safe and constructive way – I discovered that my car was blocked in.

I had the new car and had carefully parked it in a corner spot where it had less of a chance to get a ding (and less of a chance to incur the anger and dismay of my husband who adores this car).  I fumed and panicked.  My instinct was to call my husband.  Help!  Get me out of this tight spot!  My instinct was to run in and implore my therapist to find the offending parker.  Help!  Get me out of this tight spot!

I took a breath.  I spied a woman in the car parked next to mine and asked her for help.  She willingly jumped out of her car to direct me out of the spot (such a good woman).  I maneuvered carefully back and forth.  She assured me that I could do it.  I fumed, panicked and was on the precipice of giving up.  She went into the building to fight my battle for me (such a good woman) – to find the offending parker.  No luck.  Back to the maneuvering, she assured me that I could do it.  I fumed, panicked and was on the precipice of giving up.  Then it was my turn: I went into the building to find the offending parker.  No luck.  When I reemerged, she had left.  My alter ego was gone.  I fumed, panicked and was on the precipice of giving up.

On the verge of a panic attack (does this nascent feeling of anger lead to increased anxiety?), I took a breath.  I decided to trust her confidence that I could do it.  I decided to trust my self.  I got in the car.  Maneuvered back and forth.  Got out of the car to see how much room I had.  6 inches.  I got in the car, maneuvered back and forth, got out of the car to see how much room I had.  5 inches.  I did this a seemingly endless number of times, not quite sure I was going to succeed – kind of like personal growth.  And then I was free.  I inched past the obnoxious, self-absorbed car who had parked in the non-spot blocking me.  The relief flooded over me.

Who was that woman who helped me?  I didn’t get her name.  Generous woman in a black dress – I thank you.

Image is Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Waking from Anxiety

virabhadrasanaII

Letting Go of an Anxious Past

Sunday I woke.  That familiar feeling was there.  I didn’t want to face my day.  In times past (before children), I would succumb, lying in bed, staying home-bound, overwhelmed with the feeling that it was all too much to handle.  In times more current, I ignored the feeling, plowing through my day, my duties.  This time, I observed the feeling without getting lost in the feeling.

I lay there reconstructing my dreams.  All anxiety dreams.

Dream #1:  A classic – I forgot to go on my upcoming business trip.  After that horrible moment when I realized I had missed my plane and was supposed to be in Miami for an important meeting, I was rushing around trying to find another plane to get me there that same day.  New job performance anxiety.

Dream #2:  Our parakeet, Cooper (who I am ridiculously attached to probably because I feel guilty for not being a better pet care-giver as a child), was struggling up the stairs looking for me.  When he found me, something was the matter with him.  I looked at him and his body was missing.  Just his head and his tail feathers.  A big gaping hole where his body was.  He was going to die.  And it was my fault.  Parenting anxiety.  I am a terrible mother.  Especially when I am absorbed in my work.  See Dream #1.

Dream #3:  I had a tattoo.  I thought it was kind of cool that I had acquired this tattoo.  My having a tattoo would be quite out of character.  But the tattoo was of a stick dog with a skull.  I did not like it.  It was not my choice.  And now it was a permanent fixture of my body.  Anxiety over what?  Not having a say?  Elements of my past imbedded in my body that I don’t want – were not my choice. were inflicted upon me?

I lay there ruminating.  I made a decision.  I did not want to have a “generalized anxiety” fog of a day.  I decided to not succumb.  Time is too precious to waste a blissful day off feeling unsettled and blue.  I made an important discovery for myself a few years ago on a ski vacation that anxiety was a habit that I could choose not to give in to.  We had arrived at the top of the mountain.  The wind was blowing, which always increases my skiing anxiety, and we were going to do a challenging run.  I stood there looking down.  My heart was pounding and my breath was short and shallow.  “I can’t do it!  I hate skiing!  It’s your fault and you better notice how hard this is for me and take care of me!”  My husband, truly the perfect match for me, calmly chooses not to notice my panic, calmly chooses not to cater to my false victim-y incompetence.  And then the shift happens.  I change the tape in my head.  “I can do this run.  I did it several times last year and loved it!  I am a good skier.  Anxiety is a habit.  It got me attention as a child, as a young adult.  But it does not serve me well any more.  Let it go.”  I took some deeper breaths and felt my confident persona rise up.  There she is!  Let’s go.  And down we schussed, my confident persona and me, leaving the anxious child behind.

I left my anxiety dreams in bed and got up and enjoyed coffee with my husband and went to my Sunday yoga class with wise Alex.  I have worked hard to create a community of friends at my yoga studio.  But I regularly forget that they are there and that they notice when I am not there.  I walked in and was greeted with hugs and a genuine welcome.  Good God, I have friends.  Friends I have cultivated with care.  And then another shift happened.  During Warrior 2, where my left hand was my back hand, it started vibrating.  What was happening?  The only child of (anxious) cerebral scientists, I searched for a scientific and physical explanation.  Probably some mildly pinched nerve was being released.  But maybe, just maybe, there is a different point of view worth considering, worth being open to considering.  I wonder what the yogi’s have to say?  Some crazy hokum, I am sure.  Kundalini awakening or some such nonsense.  Oh yeah, I am a yogini.  I am supposed to believe this crazy hokum…right?  Skeptical, I ask Alex.  He suggests that my back hand represents my past.  I am releasing energy from my past.  The left side is my feminine side, my heart.  I am releasing energy from my past, from my past with my mother, my anxiety enabler – as I make the passage through mid-life and become more grounded in my confident self.  Good God, this resonates as true and believable!  Could it be that it is not crazy hokum?  Perhaps the logical explanation is not the only point of view?  I felt the decision I made that morning, to leave anxiety behind, in the vibration of my left back hand.

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