I’ve been doing a lot of yin yoga lately. Yin is different from most types of yoga because its emphasis is not on muscle strength but, instead, it focuses on the connective tissue. In yin, you stay in poses for 5-10 minutes, relaxing all of your muscles and using your existing physical limits, breath, and gravity to help you deepen into the posture over those minutes. After you complete a posture, it is vital to then do a “rebound pose.” This generally consists of a couple of minutes lying down on your back, legs out, arms straight, like a mini-shavasana.
The rebound allows you to observe the changes in your body, the new space that’s been created, or the shift in your mental state as a result of the pose you just completed. Without a rebound pose, there is a much more limited mind-body connection to benefit from. It forces you to observe what’s happening while it’s happening. I realize now that I need this time in more than just my yoga practice.
The last year and a half has been the best and, simultaneously, most difficult of my life. In that time, I’ve lived on four continents, met the love of my life, lived with my parents, lived with my boyfriend’s parents, quit jobs, been completely broke, had panic attacks, and been completely overwhelmed by travel and beauty. It’s been confusing, exhausting, and fantastic.
During the good times, I documented my feelings here on the blog. I felt a zest for life I’ve never had before – it was like a constant high. I was driven by some bigger force to share what I was doing, to document it in all its phases. I felt my heart exploding with pleasure and I thought: This is it. This is how my life is going to be from now on.
But then I went home. And very quickly, I lost all that confidence I had found on my solo travels. I questioned absolutely everything, which I wasn’t prepared for. I found that my heart was in a different place, but I didn’t know where. Understanding what and why I am feeling something has always been one of my strengths. But during this period, I lost my clarity, which was really hard for me.
This led to something new – crippling anxiety, which hit me like a ton of bricks. Over the first two months at home, I had four panic attacks, increasing in their intensity. I tried to figure out what was causing them, but the last one made it clear that there was no specific thing to point to.
It was in the middle of the night, at my home, next to my boyfriend, completely out of the blue. I looked him in the eyes while my world was crumbling down. I felt my mind get overtaken by darkness and held onto him, trying to stay above it, but I couldn’t. I honestly thought I would never feel happy again. I understood something about darkness at that moment that I never have before. It shook me to my core.
This anxiety colored my six months back in the States. It was entirely in charge of me for a while and I had no idea how to take back my strength. I thought I would never feel like myself again and couldn’t escape my fear even for a moment. I was scared to be alone, which was weird considering I had just spent 6 months traveling by myself. I didn’t even want to go up to the shower alone. In the city, I felt like the buildings would crash down on me at any moment. In the country, the huge sky at night would remind me that we’re part of a gigantic solar system and that really freaked me out. On top of a mountain, I’d think I was going to fall over the edge or break my leg. Inside the house, I’d feel the ceiling closing in on me and the stale air sitting in the room. Nothing was off limits – I was not safe anywhere.
I did the best I could over the summer and fall. I stayed close to family. I focused on the quality of my interactions instead of the number of times I went out or how many people I saw. I tried to exercise often, to go outside everyday. Slowly, my dark thoughts started to leave me. When I got them, I would share them out loud to get them out of my head and get a reminder of what normal thoughts sounded like. I let myself feel the complete support of my boyfriend and family. I started to laugh more. Finally, at the very end, I wanted to see more people but really didn’t have time to do all the things I had missed. And when we left for Australia, I was starting to feel stronger.
In hindsight, if my solo trip last year was a deep, intense yoga posture, then my time in the USA was my rebound. I needed to be still and to feel what the hell had just happened. I needed to find the new space that had opened up, instead of focusing only on what was closing in. Distracting myself didn’t work – it actually made things worse whenever I tried it. I felt frustrated when people tried to brush my anxiety off on having too much time to think. I think that’s a cop out. In order to get through my life, don’t I need to have time to think? To make friends with my brain? I didn’t want to spend my whole life distracting myself from my thoughts. I just needed to go through it, as strange as it seemed from the outside.
I came to Australia with very little and it gave me the opportunity to build my life up in a way that was in line with the new space I had found in myself. It gave me the chance to see fate at work again – something I had lost touch with. Somehow both Mike and I got work. We got an apartment on the beach. We got surfboards and furniture for very little money. We built a new life with absolutely no resistance. As we’ve started to create a home here in Australia, my anxiety has slowly dissipated and, now, over almost three months in, it has almost disappeared. I truly never thought that would happen.
A friend told me that he felt like his panic attacks contained some dark kernel of truth, but I feel as though they contain the opposite. Fear will take up as much space in your mind as it possibly can. It is a greedy bugger and it feeds off your desire to avoid it. Avoiding fear makes you more fearful. Staring it in the face is really hard and truly terrifying, but sometimes it’s the only option.
Now that I’ve done it, I feel like my truest self. Pangs of panic still hit me sometimes and I stop my mind and say, What’s really going on here? Usually I am either hungry, had too much caffeine, or I’m experiencing a previous trigger (claustrophobia was a big one). And now I make an action plan in my head.
I do things that take away my anxiety proactively. I have tried to stop using the word “anxious” and replace it with the real feeling I’m experiencing – nervous, excited, hungry, or uncomfortable. Those words aren’t as negatively charged for me and they are easier to address.
A couple of weeks ago I stopped drinking alcohol and it has improved things so dramatically, I can’t even describe it. I do yoga and meditate almost every day and it is the place I release negative energy and find inner peace. I keep snacks nearby so my energy levels don’t dip too low, causing me that shaky feeling which can lead to negative thoughts. Being near the ocean helps dramatically. Feeling the pull of the current, the changing tides, and the vivid colors on the water reminds me how, no matter what I am feeling or thinking, Mother Nature just gets on with it. There is a comfort in that consistency.
I also notice myself getting worked up over things that haven’t happened yet. What if I get cancer? What if Mike leaves me? What if (insert someone I love here)(insert any bad thing here)? I find myself thinking these thoughts and only recently did I parse through one and wonder, Why am I creating problems that don’t exist? Because I have nothing to worry about. Oh… I’m happy! Fear is just losing ground, so it’s trying to grasp onto something in my mind. I should stop allowing it to do that. It’s ridiculous what fear will do if you let it. If I get cancer, I’ll have cancer. And I’ll figure it out.
My experience with anxiety is now a part of my story and a part of my ultimate purpose. And for now, I think I’m meant to share this experience (as scary as it is for me). Anxiety is much harder than it seems because it changes the way you see yourself and the world – there isn’t a quick fix for it. Getting through it trumped any challenges I’ve had in my life tenfold. And I believe that, no matter where you’re at with it or how long you’ve had it, you can get through it. The only way to get there is to take the time to address it. Let yourself have a rebound and don’t apologize for taking time to look inwards. Own it and don’t let it own you. You can be yourself again – and it won’t be your old self because that depth of feeling changed you. It made you stronger and wiser.