I’ve never claimed to be perfect. Far from it! I have trouble with anxiety in all sorts of situations: Work, intimacy, sports, meeting new people, meeting old people (the list goes on) – all different facets of life. I’m dealing with all of them. We all are.
But there’s one part of my life where I find anxiety particularly bothersome. Obnoxious, really. The times when I am actively working on dispelling the anxious ruminations in my head. Where I am scurrying for relief, fleeing to the mountains of tranquility to escape the lowlands of anxiety.
Think of the time you sat down to meditate and the thoughts just wouldn’t cease. “Quiet down children, quiet down,” Mr. Garrison’s voice from South Park is there to help you out. But he’s ineffective. The children won’t stop chatting. Here you are, doing the things that you know you are supposed to…but they are not doing their part. They’re not relaxing you. In fact, it seems like your anxiety is heightened. You’re thoughts race, then find a new focal point: Something must be seriously wrong with me if I can’t even relax when I’m trying to relax. The feeling snowballs, and you’ve sabotaged the entire venture.
If it’s not meditation, just insert whatever you do to relax. Working out, yoga, prayer, whatever it may be.
Yesterday I went for a hike. To relieve tension. I went with my dad, who is one of the very closest people to me in my life. When we parked the car to start the hike, I was already sweating. I had a sweat-jacket on, so I had a measure of security. (At least my dad, or others, wouldn’t notice and it wouldn’t be glaringly obvious.) But the sweat made me uncomfortable, the thoughts creating the sweat, and the sweat then creating more anxiety.
Why couldn’t I just be like the people in the healthy living posters at the doctor’s office? Meditating in the Himalayas and reaching new-found levels of peace? Where is my peace of mind? It’s un-fuckin-attainable.
But getting angry is not productive. It won’t get me anywhere. Just like every day when I cannot control excessive sweating. Some days, I just hate it, and I hate life. That’s not helpful. The days I achieve, and the days I persevere are the ones where I own it. I accept myself, in spite of my faults. And that is the approach I tried to get to yesterday. “It’s OK. You’re working at it. You’ll get there!”
But I’ll admit today I fell short. It nagged at me once we were home. On the hike, I took several sprints. The running gives me a legitimate reason to sweat. It also helps me relax. But the little voice returns: “why can’t you reach the serenity of the people on the Kaiser Permanente posters? Just chillllllll.” My agitation builds, and by the end of the night I smoke a small spliff. Finally some escape. And relaxation. And disappointment with myself at being unable to come to terms with the day.
Today, I’ve decided I’m OK with what happened yesterday. I’m disappointed that I resorted to smoking, but I’m embracing compassion for myself. Sometimes you need two steps back to get one forward. And sometimes the step forward, is as simple as accepting the steps back.