I have been reflecting lately on how much my life has changed over the last six months. It truly feels as though I have been presented with the relationships and paths that lie close to my heart. I have the opportunities now to work on projects that are extremely important to me. I am fit, healthy and happy. My relationships have deepened. I am in love. And my work, both modeling and school have been moving along nicely.
I honestly feel like the luckiest person in the world right now.
However. Surprise! I still get anxious, and I still have anxiety.
I wish that after all this time of writing, I could say that I have been magically cured of my anxiety. However, that is just not the case. I still get debilitating anxiety, and I still have to work hard to get through bad episodes. My latest round of anxiety had my heart pounding, sitting on the side of the road in the East Village, bawling my eyes out to a woman I trust, and have come to rely on. There was no tangible reason for this change of mood. But is there ever really a tangible reason for anxiety?
I used to be able to rationalize when the anxiety hit me. I would tell myself that I was not going to die from this, anxiety has always passed, and would subsequently talk myself through the episodes. This worked for many years. However, the older I got, the less effective this method proved to be. I then turned to anti anxiety medication, which I took daily for many years. However, I began to learn about the long term effects and decided to stop taking those.
Now I have to work through and show up to all of the fear that these attacks bring me. And that is exhausting. But my relationship to my anxiety has shifted over the past few years. It is still something that I do not look forward to, something that has the ability to make me extremely uncomfortable. However, it does not derail my days anymore. The way I feel about anxiety is different.
My most recent anxiety attack took place in an airport, earlier this year. I was alone, my flight had been cancelled, and I was trying to get on another flight out. When I couldn’t, I had to book a hotel for the night. Somewhere in this mess, my vision began to get smaller, my hands shook and I needed to throw up. I began to hyperventilate. Basically, I had an anxiety attack come on. Whilst this certainly was a stressful situation, these circumstances did not warrant a full blown panic attack. This was not the first time my travel plans had been disrupted, nor would it be the last (I’m sure). But anxiety does not tend to react in proportion to the stress experienced.
However, this attack was different. It did all the same things to me – physically and mentally I was in the same old place of extreme fear. But this time, my reaction to it was different. I used to spike with fear, and be incapable of doing anything for at least 48 hours. For many years, this was all I was capable of, and I had to work my life around my reaction to these attacks. I had no choice but to be ok with this.
But during this last episode, I had the clarity to decide to handle my attack differently. I chose to break my day up into the next obvious step. Instead of freaking out over all the things I needed to show up to the next day, week and month, I simply chose to focus on what I needed to do next. In this circumstance, it looked like getting out of the airport. Driving to the hotel. Checking into the hotel. Going to my room. Etc.
Instead of my life looming as this faceless terrifying challenge, it became much smaller and simpler. And each time I achieved the next goal on my list, I felt a little better. I was able to gain back a little more control and power each action I achieved, until I found myself on a treadmill going for a run, about an hour after my attack. The endorphins from that, and the satisfaction at knocking off a run got me through the rest of the evening.
This event taught me a lot about anxiety. Basically, I have two options when it comes to handling my anxiety. I could take myself out of the line of fire of the triggers, or I could choose to break my life down into tiny pieces until the storm passed. The first is not an option for me, because that would look like an entire career change. And I truly love modeling. Once I am on set, I always have a great time and enjoy the atmosphere. It is getting me there that has posed some issues in the past.
Which brings me to option two. When I am anxious, everything terrifies me. I am a small, lost child, who is scared of being alone. Of course I want to catastrophize about the future, which is in and of itself, a self-fulfilling prophecy. I freak out that I will be stuck like this forever, thus destroying my life and everything I am blessed with. By making my future very small and manageable, I take this fear out of my life. The anxiety is given a chance to fade away.
I realized that people around me have been using this means of handling my anxiety attacks since they started. When I was having an attack alone, and on the phone to my therapist, she would ask me to describe the room I was in. We would bring attention to my breath. My husband would ask me to describe the painting on the wall of my hotel room. Of course, my reaction to this was that of complete annoyance. Did they not realize I was dying? That this fear was beyond anything anyone had ever experienced?!
But, of course, they were attempting to pull me back into the moment. To slow my mental racing, and take the fuel out of my anxiety fire.
Because anxiety runs on those stuck thought patterns. When it begins to get away from you, it can feel like the end of the world. However you do have the power to begin to get it under control. You can’t make it go away completely, but you can slowly take the power out of your anxiety. And come back to life.
Peace and love,