Me, myself and anxiety
I have suffered from anxiety for as long as I remember. Initially I would only get anxious when I was hung over (which back then was almost every day) so I always just thought that was what a hangover felt like.
It wasn’t until I was 25 and I had an anxiety attack when I wasn’t hung over that I realised that I have been suffering for anxiety for years. Since then I have tried to be really fearless in my domination over anxiety, using meditation and yoga initially and over time just being able to see the triggers and deal with the attacks if they came.
Fast forward to last week when I was in the middle of Costa Rica with a nasty ear infection, no longer able to hear out of my left ear and in constant pain. Visits to the local “doctor” had proven futile so I headed to the capital to see a specialist. He told me that the perforated ear drum that I had been blessed with two years ago was putting my brain in risk of infection and that I needed surgery as soon as possible to repair my ear... In Australia.
The next days I was so worried that I was going to get a brain infection that I turned into a giant ball of anxiety (which didn’t help because the anxiety symptoms are similar to those of meningitis). I was living seven hours drive from a hospital and was terrified that I would have to be airlifted to hospital and leave my family with a huge hospital bill. I was so convinced that I was getting meningitis that I had a five hour anxiety attack before taking myself to the after hours doctor and paying him $80 for him to tell me that I was just anxious. I would of paid him $300, it was hell.
It was around that moment that it felt like my entire world imploded. I realised like a punch in the face that I wasn’t happy and that I hadn’t been happy for a long time. Not that kind of unhappiness that comes from disliking your job or having a boring life. Those ones are easy to fix. That deep unhappiness that you don’t even know why you are feeling it because you are living a life that most people would only dream of living yet there always something there that is blocking you from feeling joy. I was living in paradise, doing what I love with a gorgeous man by my side that I love and adore yet I wasn’t thriving. I needed to get home and sort my ear and my head out. Now.
Within a day my flight was booked and I was heading home to Australia. That is when the real fun started. I had two buses, a ferry and five flights between me and Australia and I was of course alone, which usually I love, but this time being alone felt terrifying. I have never felt so vulnerable in all of my life. I had two days of honestly thinking I was having a nervous breakdown. I didn’t know how I was going to make it home in that state. Once I was in the airport in Costa Rica I was genuinely wondering whether I would be allowed to exit the terminal and go back to my hostel even though I had passed the security checkpoints. I just wanted to run and hide in bed.
The anxiety was the worst I had every experienced. Times twenty five. Anxiety is such a dark, evil thing that it waits until you are at your most tired and vulnerable so you can’t fight back and then it strikes.
You know that kind of anxiety where tying your shoelaces seems absolutely overwhelming and seemingly impossible? Where sweat is pouring out of you but you are shivering with cold? Where you are certain you are going to throw up everywhere even though you know that you aren’t sick? Where you feel so irritable it is like someone laced your water with cocaine? Where your arms and hands are so tingly that they don’t feel like they are attached to your brain anymore? Where you have hardly eaten but when you put a mouthful of food in your mouth it is like swallowing glass?
Well it was that, while being stuck inside a giant tube in the middle of the sky. For hours upon hours. You think I am being dramatic but I am being very serious.
But, as you can see, I made it.
I am not telling you this so you feel sorry for me. You don’t need to feel sorry for me. I am so loved and supported and I know that I am, and will be, fine. It was just a shitty moment in a life of mostly great moments.
I am telling you this so that I can tell you how I got through it. Because it was simple but in the same breath it was excruciatingly difficult.
It started with putting one foot in front of the other. A friend told me “keep on moving forward and don’t look back”. So I just kept on moving, no matter what. It feels like your feet are dragging and the floor is shaking, but you have to keep them moving.
I talked to myself. A lot. I gave myself constant pep talks. I told myself that this wasn’t going to last forever and it wasn’t going to kill me. I told myself that this does not make me weak and it does not make me crazy. I acknowledged that this was just my nervous system responding to the craziness of the last days (months?) and that my body was just trying to protect me.
I acknowledged that it was anxiety but that it was also something physical. People tell you that it is all in your head. Those people have never suffered from anxiety. It is horrifyingly physical. If you don’t accept that, you are going to freak yourself out that something bigger is wrong. It is all just the anxiety, but as mentioned, it is a real sneaky son of a b*tch.
I sat and observed where I felt the anxiety in my body. That constant knot in my stomach, the sweaty hands, the foot that won’t stop twitching. I tried to do only that, observe it. Watch it. I noticed the way that my body was so tense and I was squeezing all of my muscles. Then I forced them to relax.
I avoided caffeine, tea and sugar like the plague. I declined everything they offered me on the plane except salty pretzels. You’re insides are doing enough somersaults without adding fuel to the fire. Trust me.
Of course I breathed… Very slowly and as deep as I could. I tried to hold the breath in and then let it out with care and precision. Then I held it out. Repeat. If that doesn’t work, count the breaths. Inhale, think 1, exhale. Inhale, think 2, exhale.
I lay on the floor of the airport and listened to guided relaxations/meditations. Then I started to freak out that I was going to be in the plane without wifi and therefore without guided meditations. So inside the plane I listened to an old recording of me teaching Yoga Nidra to students at a retreat. On repeat. Imagine your own voice in your ears talking you through how to relax. Pretty weird. But a thousand times better than the stuff going on inside my head if I didn’t listen to it.
Then I just took one thing at a time. I tried not to think forward to all of the other flights that I had ahead of me or that my connection time was really small and I was probably going to miss my flight or what would happen once I got home or pining for what I was leaving behind. I had to just keep thinking of getting through this flight, this minute, this breath.
Leave the rest for future Kiki to figure out.