As of today, that’s how long I’ve roamed this earth. If you happen to be older than me you might chuckle at what I’m about to say, but if you’re younger, consider this: It feels a bit surreal to span decades—like a tiny taste of immortality. I actually remember pretty clearly my decade-falling birthdays: 30, 20, 10. And now, I’m faced with my fifth decade on this planet.
As I consider who I’ve been over the previous decades, I’m filled with both gratitude and remorse, mixing together into a tributary of sources, informing the river I wish to see, flowing forward. This river contains many elements—personal, familial, and vocational. Insofar as it relates to you, dear reader, I’ve been feeling a desire for some months to refocus my writing to the ‘diamond point’ of teaching what’s made a real difference in my life: spirituality that actually works.
But before you consider listening to anything I have to say, I feel like it’s only fair for you to just who you’re listening to. So many would-be teachers present an Instagram-perfect picture of having a completely ‘together’ inner and outer life. Well, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and June Carter, it ain’t me, babe.
If we are to continue this relationship—writer and reader, virtual fellowship in a seeking community of potential friends—I’d like to be more disclosed to you about just who I am and where I’m coming from. Here’s on aspect of this.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization marked Mental Health Awareness Day. So many of my friends and colleagues broke through the habit of social media ‘highlight reels’ to share a genuine, behind-the-scenes look at their neurodivergence. I was so encouraged by these displays of courage and vulnerability, that I also shared my own.
Here’s what I said: I experience debilitating anxiety, and panic attacks. I’m pretty sure, once upon a time, I was psychiatrically diagnosed with both Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder. Looking back, I’ve had these latencies since childhood. But I especially began to notice in my young twenties, when my first panic attack landed me in the Emergency Room (I thought I was having a heart attack).
These tendencies in my brain, body, and being have their ups and downs; they wax and wane, with good years and bad, good months and bad, good days and bad.
Since this summer, it’s been a particularly difficult season.
What this looks like is that some days, I don’t want to drive.
Some days, I don’t want to be out and about in public.
Some days, I don’t want to be around bright light, or alot of sensory stimulation.
I can get dizzy, heart pounding, breath short, world spinning; I just want everything to sloooow down.
In these states, the very idea of ‘safety’ can feel like a cruel joke…an impossible dream.
This particular season has also been a rich one of personal discovery for me, road testing my spirituality to discover, anew, what actually works (and what doesn’t). I’m learning more about my brain, body and being than I ever have. Working with a Somatic Experiencing® (SE) therapist and an Occupational Therapist (OT), I’m learning that much of what I’ve lived with my entire life might not even be primarily ‘psychological’ in its ordinary sense, but sensory processing integration disorders that were present from early on—perhaps a surgery I had when I was six months old, or a bike accident when I was 10 that ‘gifted’ me with a traumatic brain injury.
And then there’s also plain ‘ol trauma, relational patternings, daily stresses of parenting, partnering, and vocation, and various behavioral mindsets. It’s all in here.
The specific S.E. and O.T. protocols I’m doing now are promising, but I’m gonna hold off on sharing those with you ’till they bear more fruit. Because to be honest with you, I thought I’d discovered various Key Insights™ and Silver Bullets™ 5, 10, and 15 years ago. Part of living with anxiety and panic for me is a delicate dance of acceptance and hope, letting go and pressing on.
Still, a little of what’s working for me, in case you also experience anxiety and panic?
- I practice centering prayer.
- I take walks.
- I try to mind sleep and nutrition.
- I’m mindful of supplements—Living Fuel’s Omega and Natural Calm magnesium before bedtime are particularly helpful.
- Neurofeedback, swimming at my local YWCA, and chiropractic care help alot.
- I practice sacred dance
- I ‘dry brush’ my skin, take pauses throughout my day, and try to really feel what it’s like to inhabit a body. Especially when I’m feeling good—I pause to ‘memorize’ that feeling, and celebrate it.
- Working with a doctor I trust, I take meds as-needed.
- I have amazing family, friends, and caregivers—too many to name here.* (I recognize that this is a privilege, and I don’t take this lightly. And, I’m determined that relational resources be abundant for all. If you don’t have amazing family, friends, and caregivers, reach out—I’ll introduce you to some of mine.)
- I’m learning to taste my experiences as sensations first, without immediately resorting to language like ‘anxiety’ and ‘panic.’ If I’m feeling really fancy, I reframe what I’m experiencing as simply my body’s own life-force, that I’m learning to befriend.
I love my life, my family, my friends, and my work. I’m learning to love myself, and “let the soft animal of [my] body…love what it loves,” as Mary Oliver would have it.
If you happen to be faced with my particular struggle, I want you to know:
It’s okay to experience anxiety and panic on the regular, and have an awesome life, too.
It’s okay to not always feel safe inside your own skin, and love yourself, too.
If you ever need to reach out to someone, reach out to me. I’ll do my best to connect with you myself, or connect you with someone who can hold the space you deserve. (See below for some initial recommendations.)
It’s okay—even when it’s not.
We’re all in this together.
*Recommended Allies for the Journey of Becoming
There really are too many friends, family, and caregivers to comprehensively name in this space. All the same, I’m going to a list a few whose teachings or services are available from anywhere. Definitely check them out if you’re looking for increased insight, integration, and grounding in your life:
- Aline Defiglia – Managing Transitions with Elegance
- Chris Dierkes – Soul Interpreter
- Gus Vickery, MD – Authentic Health
- Jerome Lubbe – Thrive Neurohealth and Whole Identity Enneagram
- Lavinia Plonka – Awareness through Movement
- Lauren Wild – The Mystic and the Mundane
- Patti Elledge – Somatic Experiencing
- Rainier Wylde – Evolving Wild
- Rebekah Berndt – Intuitive Reader
- Zachari Cahn – Holistic Wellness Coach