As my subscribers and faithful readers know, I have been grappling with anxiety since having a panic attack this summer that (seemingly) came from nowhere. Since then it has caused my mind to linger on elements of my life and deconstruct what I have built around me. In seven months I have been emotionally reduced to rubble, rebuilt myself to be a functional shell of my past, and thrown the shell away to embrace my present and future. It has been (and still is) a humbling journey fraught with ups, downs, and a plethora of self discovery. I have learned to go with the flow. “Go with the flow”…that was my New Year’s resolution, to not hold myself and others to unrealistically high standards and to let my path unfold before me. However, as the path unfolds I have to keep walking. In the days and weeks after my panic attack it was baby steps. Then full steps. Then back to baby steps…and now? I seem to be taking strides. I resolved to understand that I cannot predict the future and therefore hypothesizing about anxious outcomes from banal scenarios can only result in unnecessary anxiety. In layman’s terms, I just needed to go with the flow.
I have had anxiety every day since the panic attack in June. Sometimes it is major anxiety where I feel like breaking down and hiding from the world. Sometimes its plausible anxiety like giving a speech or getting on a plane. Most times its minor anxiety like not wanting to go out because I have a funny feeling in my gut. “Discomfort not disaster,” my shrink would say. True…anxiety feels worse than it is. However, the idea of having that feeling every day is scary in itself, thus it is anxiety inducing and therefore fantasy. That is not how you go with the flow. I had an intervention with myself and found that there were a number of things I was avoiding but a few of them were major topics I needed to address with myself such as…
- Frustrations with my two-year-old son
- Worries about the baby coming next month
- Fear about aspects of my health
- Fear of getting older…my mortality
Those are not unrealistic fears. I bet I share similar fears with all of you. However, I realized I wasn’t facing them so they were just building up inside of me and boiling over the top. No wonder I have so much anxiety. Now I’m not going to tell you that in two weeks I have faced my daemons and all is right with the world. No…that is impossible. What I have done is recognized I am not facing them and in doing so…begun to face them. I am going to have frustrations with my kids and that is a part of life. I am having another baby and that is scary. I am getting older and it was only a matter of time till I was going to need assistance to keep my health tip-top. The result of simply owning up to the facts and facing my fears? My first 100% anxiety free day on Saturday…and I mean 100%. Not an ounce of anxiety all day. Same on Sunday. I didn’t even realize it until I was laying in bed drifting off to sleep, because I wasn’t thinking about anxiety…I was going with the flow.
I’ve been handling my anxiety at the micro level, i.e. “I’m nervous about flying. I can’t predict how I will feel on the plane. Get on the plane.” That is great and all but now I’m looking at my anxiety on the macro level, i.e. “I don’t know what it will be like to have two kids but it is happening…be a part of it.” Sounds simple, but to anyone living with anxiety they know that is hard in practice…but my mind is doing it. I have no crystal ball. I may be anxious tomorrow or never feel burdened by anxiety again…but I’m good right now and I’m just going with the flow. I’m 33 years old, I’m about to have my second child, and my life has drastically changed in the past five years. Just read the “Welcome” paragraph to my site written back when this project started, “Welcome to So Long Freedom. My name is Ryan and I am making some major changes in my life! From freelancer to Corporate America. From married with a cat to parenthood. From NY to Wichita, KS. It is a lot to tackle at once!” It is a lot to tackle at once. What I’ve figured out is that it is okay to be scared, change can be good and hard at the same time, and kids add an element of total unpredictability that nothing in life can prepare you for. However, if you go with the flow…you’re moving downstream baby! You’re wading through a stream to begin with, then swimming in a river, you may join paths with others on rafts and rivers, you’ll have rapids, you’ll have calm waters, you’ll have waterfalls, you’ll have pools, you’ll have everything your life can throw at you and if your destination is the end (and not the journey)…what’s the point? So grab an oar and start paddling.
This is life.
*All images in this post are of bodies of water from the Adirondacks and the place I call “home” in my heart: Lake George, NY. These are the places I envision when I feel anxious, where I go in my head, and where I retreat to when possible. Lake George is my past and when I reach the end of my downstream and there is no paddling left to be done…this is where I hope to be.