As Pumbaa from the Lion King says, “Its times like this my buddy Timon here says: you gotta put your behind in the past.” No, no, no…amateur. While the theme of Timon and Pumbaa’s catchy tune, Hakuna Matata, eventually leads Simba away from his royal duties as king of the jungle (“Your Majesty, I gravel at your feet!”) it does apply well to anxiety. You gotta leave the past behind. Anxiety is like a fungus that feeds on the three fundamentals of how we perceive ourselves in the world: past, present, and future. When you have an anxiety attack, as I did on Sunday, you are battling your mind for how it perceives the future. Your anxiety tells your mind that everything is going to go terribly in the future and hope is lost. This is fantasy as we cannot predict the future, so the steps to overcoming an anxiety attack are…
Accept that you do not know what the future holds and the feelings of anxiety you are experiencing are predictions and not factual. An anxious brain will only fantasize about scenarios where everything goes wrong. Try to think about good things that you know will happen in the near future and let go of preconceived negative notions on scenarios you have no control over.
Work on how you feel right now. Right now. The present. You can’t predict the future and the past has already passed so just live in the now. When I am really freaking out it helps me to go to a safe place and do some sensory deprivation and meditate on good possibilities for the future. I take a long hot shower in complete darkness while sitting down or laying down. In the summer I submerge myself in water either in Lake George or the pool.
Leave the past behind. This is hard…for me this is the cyclical part that tries to spiral me back into my anxiety. It also goes by the name of depression and is what I’d like to talk about today in a little more detail.
Take it away Pumbaa and Timon!
Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase.
Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze.
It means no worries for the rest of your days!
It’s our problem free, philosophy…
So there I am Sunday, laying down in the shower with the lights off, and the water so hot it almost burns my skin. This claustrophobic little spot makes me feel safe…I am a water person so getting into water helps with everything. My brain is racing with anxious thoughts and I am trying to slow it down. First I focus on the water and how it feels and ask myself, “How do I feel right now?” The answer was “Safe.” So now that I feel comfortable where I am I can work on what I am scared about. My fears are my own but not unlike yours, mine just get inflated until all I see is disaster ahead of me. So I visualize a stop sign, go through some CBT techniques, and try to hault the thought process in its tracks. Then I visualized happy things I knew were going to happen like getting hugged by my two-year-old, the feel of my newborn’s hair on my cheek when I kiss his head, and the touch of my wife’s hand when she holds mine as we walk. I felt better. I had stopped making terrible predictions for the future and focused on good things I knew would happen. I was living in the now. That is when it happens…the past creeps up to try to fill the void!
My next thought was, “Why am I like this? Why can’t I go back to how I was a year ago before all these anxiety attacks?” Guess what the answer to that is? “You can’t…things will never be the same.” POW!!! Right back into predicting terrible outcomes of the future! So now I have to redo all the steps and when I get to the “Why am I like this,” question I say, “Hakuna Matata.” No joke. I’m singing the Lion King in my head right now. Worrying about the future is the trigger that starts the process but getting hung up on the past is the trap that keeps the cycle going.
Here’s the rub: I want desperately to go back to how things used to be. I want to be unafraid to fly on airplanes, drive for miles by myself, and eat anything I want. I want to feel “normal.” There is a flight to LA this Thursday with tickets to the Sweet Sixteen waiting for me…and I have turned them down because I know I’m not ready for that much pressure yet and I need to be home with my family and newborn. Last year I would have been in Omaha for the game against Creighton, in St. Louis for Arch Madness, in Utah for the opening round of the NCAA, in LA for the Sweet Sixteen, and in Atlanta for the Final Four. No problemo. This year…I’m afraid to fly and I’m aware that I have a fundamental flaw in the way my brain thinks that needs to be addressed before I can push myself to be adventurous again. I have to stop living in the past.
I cannot go back in time and since my anxiety has increased my responsibilities have doubled. I am a father of two now and I am clearly grappling with the desire to be free vs. the need to be responsible. Call it an early life crisis. I want the best of both worlds. I want to be free to do what I want and then come home to my family and be “Dad.” However, it doesn’t work that way…yet. You have to work to get that privilege and the work has just begun. THAT is where my stress comes from. Contradicting lifestyles: the one I live and the one I used to live. I cannot fold the old one into the new one, I have to accept the responsibilities of the new one and know that I can’t predict the next phase. I want to go to LA and see the Shockers play in the Sweet Sixteen…I need to be home with my newborn, my two-year-old, and my exhausted wife…even when she says I can go, because she is the nicest person on the face of the Earth. I don’t need permission from anyone…I need to make the responsible choice for myself, and that is to stay. I remember when Kate and I went to the Sweet Sixteen together back in 2006 in DC before we were married and had kids. Good times. Hakuna Matata!
I won’t miss my newborn’s first smiles which he has started doing this week. I won’t miss playing catch with my two-year-old. I won’t miss the good things in life because I’m focusing on the past or trying to live like I did in the past. I live in the now. Go Shocks…I’ll be watching from my couch in Shocker pajamas with a beer in one hand and my baby boy in the other. Go me.
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