Category Archives: Self-care Mind

An Anxiety-Taming Blanket. For You! (Part 1)

Sometimes things feel like too much. That whole thing about your daughter, for example. Not to mention the new job. And what about the divorce. And now that you think of it, there’s the whole thing about your sister… And your dad’s health…

When anxiety is visiting the house of you, what started as one thing can quickly turn into EV-ree-thing. And quickly everything feels like too much.

Enter, Overwhelm. And then, right on cue, Panic.

Our natural tendency with anxiety (or with anything we experience as unpleasant, really) is to slam the door on it and then try to ignore how it keeps knocking.

Or maybe anxiety has been with you for so long and put you in such hard places that now you are anxious about getting anxious, afraid about when anxiety might come knocking again. In our house-metaphor being afraid of anxiety might look like camping out behind the curtains, every so often peeking out to make sure the coast is clear, but never venturing too far from the curtain and certainly not out and about to enjoy life as you would love to be doing (and as you imagine all those other people who never get anxious are probably doing right this very second, dammit).

Today and over the next week or so, I will be writing to you about a metaphorical magical blanket for anxiety.

Notice that I am not calling this a magical pill for anxiety. First off, I’m not a doctor. Also, no, you will not be swallowing anything and POOF it is gone. What I am is a massage therapist and a guide in something called “Focusing” (a mind-body technique that allows you to listen to your body’s wisdom), who specializes in working with anxiety.

While I will be describing some of the blanket’s qualities, you —just by showing up and reading, by taking what works for you and leaving the rest, and just by imagining and thereby practicing—  will get to be making the anxiety-taming blanket your very own.

Maybe you will spread your blanket in a beautiful meadow of wildflowers somewhere. Maybe you will make a blanket-fort out of it in your imagined or actual bedroom. Maybe you will, in the middle of the night when, yes, anxiety woke you up, make a nest out of your blanket in the tub and give new and dare-I-say innovative(!) meaning to the expression “taking a tub.”

Wherever you end up putting your blanket, however you end up using it, this blanket is perfect for you and whatever is going on with you right here, right now.

You will hear from me in the next day or so, but for now I invite you to have a look at your anxiety-taming blanket as it appears to you right now. The mind’s eye can show a powerful movie. Close your eyes and let it roll. And if you want, of course, tell about it in the comment field below.

More soon,

Heidi

P.S. I tip my hat and give a bow to my long-time teachers: Barbara McGavin, Ann Weiser Cornell, Tara Brach, Byron Katie, and Gene Gendlin, and my own therapist, to name just a few. And, last but very much not least, Anxiety itself.

Mood detective, heal thyself!

I like to ask my clients how they’d love to feel when they leave their session. In addition to helping us set an intention wave a magic wand, their answer gives me a sense of how they are doing, what they are struggling with, even if we never ever discuss the specifics of their life, which mostly we don’t. (After all, I am not a psychotherapist).

Sometimes they say: “I want to feel calm like you.”

The first time I heard this I’m quite sure I laughed. I thought: “If you only knew!”

These days I don’t laugh. First off, they are serious. Second, it’s not about me. I know this because I too have people that are to me just what I am to my clients and it is a gift for me to recognize calm when I see it. Calm (or any quality) is in the eye of the beholder. For sure. Third, if I look honestly I see that I am calm and present for my clients. It is, after all, no mistake that I do what I do. Learning calm is probably my biggest life learning.

The last few days have been hard for me. I have not felt calm. At all.

If you read my blog, you probably know that I’m a big fan of “channeling” people.

“Channeling?” you might ask, thinking it’s some special or weird quirky thing I can do.

I can assure you, anyone can do this. (Although for sure, I’m quirky).

What I do is keep a mental list of people I admire for certain qualities. During hard times, or even just when I’ve exhausted options of how to deal with something, I bring them to mind. Some of these people, like, oh, Clint Eastwood to name just one, are on My Inner Council, and that simply means that when things get reeeeally hard, I call an inner meeting to which only the smartest, kindest, and yes, sometimes bad-assest, people are invited and we have us a pow-wow.

A pow-wow?

Yep. Although we’ve never passed around a pipe and now I’m wondering why the heck not… But pretty much My Inner Council pow-wows consist of me saying straight up how it is and them listening and every so often asking me the best, get-to-the-heart-of-the-matter question ever, during all of which I am pretty much writing everything down. Because, hello! If the Dalai Lama says something to me, you bet your ass I’m writing it down.

Anyway…

Sometimes I have dialogs with these people I channel. Of course, most of them I’ve never actually met. But, no matter. In fact, even better. Because what these people really help me do is see myself and what’s around me, in a new way. They help me recognize and develop existent, yet dormant, qualities within myself. Takes one to know one, and all that.

(And if I ever do meet Cesar Milan, Clint Eastwood, Mary Oliver, the Dalai Lama, Isadora Duncan, Johnny Depp, Hiro Boga, J.K. Rowling, Maya Angelou, or Leonard Cohen, maybe I will thank them. Probably, I will just be dumb-founded. Or drooling.)

This morning, in a moment that “Losing It” was made for, I began to write, wondering whom to channel. And just like that I knew: I need to channel me. Specifically, how I am with my clients:

Calm.
Listening.
Balanced.
Smart.
Kind.
Sense of humor.
Sensitive.
Strong.
Confident.
Open-hearted.

—————

Me: Hi, Heidi. Come in, come in… How are you doing today?

Heidi: [about to burst into tears] Oh, there’s so much. It’s too much. I look at so-and-so and so-and-so and how well they’re doing, and how together their life is and how happy they are… and when things feel like today, my life just looks shitty… There must be something wrong with me.

Me: [nodding] There’s so much happening right now and it’s all seeming like too much–

Heidi: Mostly, it feels way too crowded.

Me: Crowded?

Heidi: My thinking! It’s crowded! Exclamation points! Flashing billboards on the highway kind of crowded in my head. It’s driving me crazy.

Me: Oh yes, I understand. Sounds overwhelming. Tell me… how would you love to feel when you leave your session today? What quality, feeling or state of mind do you need?

Heidi: I’d like a sense that no matter what is going on, no matter what is coming at me, no matter what, I am OK.

Me: Ahh yes, that is a very wise thing to want. Rather than wanting your circumstances to change, you want to feel that you are OK no matter what.

Heidi: Yes. Whether or not the relationship works out, I am OK. Whether or not my loved ones are healthy, I am OK. Whether or not I get all the clients I need this month before the holidays, I am OK. Whether or not I get all the Aardvark Essentials new things I want to put up on my website up or not, I am OK. Whether or not someone I love ever wants to see me again, I am OK. Whether or not I make my rent, I am OK.

Me: Ah yes.

Heidi: You know what that would be like?

Me: Tell me–

Heidi: That would be like the highways in Vermont, where they don’t have any advertisements or billboards or flashy lights, only directional signs indicating what the exit number is, or the town name, or how many miles to the next rest stop…

Me: Ahh yes. So, things right now feel more like the highway in New York or New Jersey, rather than Vermont?

Heidi: Exactly so.

Me: I wonder if you could tell me how you would know you are OK… I mean, OK could come knocking on your door and how would you know that’s who it is… In other words: how would it feel in your body? How would it be in your mind? In your heart?

Heidi: Well, take I-91 in Vermont. My eyes are free to move about slowly or quickly but without getting assaulted or interrupted by lights and noise and information, which is what it feels like inside of me when I’m overwhelmed… it’s like my attention keeps getting assaulted.

Me: Oof! That is hard.

Heidi: It makes everything be on edge.

Me: I can see that. Tell me more about how would you know that you are OK no matter what?

Heidi: [takes big, gentle breath and slows down to ponder… already there is an observable change]… I would walk confidently, knowing the ground holds me. [laughs] I’m not too heavy for the ground. And I would allow gravity to help me move as I need to.

Me: What do you mean?

Heidi: Well, I’d let gravity bring my shoulders down so they’re not hunched up to my ears. Also, my breathing would be longer and calmer. My heart would feel open and soft. I might cry and that’d be OK. Lately I’ve been too stoppered up and uptight and scared and feeling hard and protected to even cry.

Me: Hmmmm… Heidi, I can see that you know exactly how to feel OK no matter what. Even as you were telling me these things I saw them happen.

Heidi: But why do I feel overwhelmed so often?! There must be something wrong with me.

Me: Sweetpea, I want to tell you a secret that’s not really a secret. Most people feel overwhelmed sometimes. And a good many people feel overwhelmed a lot of the time. They might mask it, but they do. And overwhelm can feed on itself and then that makes it stronger… People do things to keep their overwhelm at bay but those things are temporary distractions, at best. Keeping something at bay doesn’t really make it go away. What do you think all that endless checking and texting and refreshing of screens is all about? Most folks don’t even sit down to sip on a hot cup of something without reading or refreshing some screen or another… Do you really think they are enjoying those things when they do them like that? Just look around, love… start noticing… we aren’t bad for doing those things, but I’m telling you this to invite you to notice, and hopefully feel less unique about the overwhelm…

Heidi: [quiet]

Me: I can tell you really care about taking care of yourself and living with an open heart, Heidi. Could I invite you to consider something?

Heidi: Yes–

Me: When you are feeling overwhelmed, like everything is crowded and noisy and too much… is believing “There is something wrong with me” a kind and helpful thing to think?

Heidi: Not really. It actually makes me spin faster, and then, in addition to feeling the crowdedness in my head, I then start trying to figure out how to fix myself, all because I’m panicked that there’s something wrong.

Me: Exactly.

Heidi: But I can’t help it. I just think it. All of a sudden, there is that thought: There’s something wrong with me.

Me: Right. You don’t make the thought happen. It’s not your fault. It’s actually not anyone’s fault. But you can notice it. And once you notice, amazing things can happen.

Heidi: Amazing things? Like feeling calm?

Me: Possibly. We think we have to change things. To fix them. To make them better. But simply noticing and paying attention is the #1 ingredient of kind, non-violent change. And kind, non-violent change is the kind of change that sticks. Change that’s been forced, always tends to backfire.

Heidi: OK, so I notice the thought, and then what?

Me: Well, you could then do many things. One of my favorite is to say hello.

Heidi: Come again?

Me: “Hello there Thought that there is something wrong with me. Funny you should come by today. Things are rather busy, in case you couldn’t tell. Feel free to sit and make yourself comfy in that chair over there, or you can even hang out with me, but you should know that I can’t entertain you. I have a life I’m dying to live and also, I’m learning to stay calm.”

Heidi: Hunh! That’s interesting. So you aren’t trying to kick the thought out?

Me: Nah. Never works. It’ll come back to bite you in the ass, and probably at some ungodly hour when you’re trying to sleep. But you can say hello. You can laugh with it. And you can treat it kindly. Or you can drop it off at your friend’s house for them to keep an eye on while you do your stuff… But, once you notice the thought, you are onto it, baby, and you don’t have to believe it. So, Heidi, how’d it be if the thought “there’s something wrong with me” popped up but you were totally onto it?

Heidi: Hmm…. I think I’d be able to notice my panic and the crowded billboards in my mind more calmly. Hmm… I’d notice panic calmly. Hunh! Is that even possible?

Me: You just saw it in your mind’s eye, didn’t you?

Heidi: Hmmm… Kind of like the medical people and EMTs who come to the scene of an accident… How unhelpful would it be if they arrived and were all: “Oh noes! You’ve broken your arm! Oh noes. What the hell is wrong with you!”

Me: Exactly.

Heidi: Ahhhhh… Thanks, Heidi. I want to be calm like you.

Me: You’re on your way, Sweetpea, you’re on your way. Now, how about that massage?

Heidi: Oh yes. My favorite!

Me, Humpty Dumpty, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. On a wall. With insomnia.

No to-do list is going to get me there.

There?

There. Where worry ends.
There. Where it feels safe.
There. Where I’m home.

A monster shouts: “You must figure out your mailing list thing!”

And another: “You must get that new page up.”

And another: “Quit being so anxious or everything you do will come from fear.”

And yet another: “What’s the use. You may have good ideas, but you are paralyzed. What’s the use. You will always be a loser, maybe smart, but a loser nonetheless.”

Ah yes. Thanks for sharing. Onward!

Except for the fact that fear has, in effect, grounded all planes.

<Cue sad trombone>

There is nothing to do now but sit and notice. Oddly, just that brings a hint of relief:

There is nothing to do now but sit and notice.

It’s been weeks now, the 4AM-waking-up thing. (Except for Sunday, when the clocks changed and I woke up at—wait for it!—3, which is to say, thankyouverymuch, 4).

<Again with the sad trombone>

At dark:thirty it’s hard to ignore what’s wanting your attention. I mean, you can try, but there’s not much by way of distraction. And you can struggle to sleep, but sleep and struggle were never good bed fellows. (heh!)

Of course you could pretend it’s 7 and get up and get busy. But you’re onto that thought. Plus, you’re a mood detective! And so this morning you sit up in bed, wrap a blanket curiosity cape around you, and try to channel the Buddha. (Some people call this meditation).

You notice how hard you feel: things feel hard and you feel hard. A wall around your heart kind of hard. Numb and brittle-hard. Fragile-hard. Hard all around.

You understand about defending against what you’re scared of. You understand about being afraid of what’s dark. You understand about homeland security. You understand about terror. You know war. It’s an inside job.

You could call in the light brigades. You could bomb the bastards. You could smoke them out of their caves. But we know how that goes. All wars are civil wars.

So you sit. There you are, on a wall. Hello, frustration. Hello, fear. And oh! Hello! If it isn’t…

Humpty Dumpty!

“Hi!”

[He doesn’t answer. He’s shivering. Let’s try again. Maybe let’s try un-exclamating and un-bolding the font this time.]

Humpty?

[Still no answer.]

“Are you cold?”

What can I say. When I’m nervous I sometimes state the obvious.

He’s chattering so hard I’m afraid he’s going to go and crack up right on top of the wall here, before ever there being an actual event to report, like a fall. And then, not only would there be a mess on top of the wall, but we, by which I mean I, would be responsible for ruining the age-old nursery rhyme, to boot.

I’m going to be here for a while, I can tell. Plus, I remind myself, I am channeling the Buddha.

I notice I want to save him, to keep him from falling. I want to tell him that the story doesn’t end well if he goes ahead and falls. The experts won’t be able to mend things. The people running the world are, in fact, more f*cked up than he is, and really, it’d just be a horrible mess.

But I bite my tongue. For about a minute.

“Do you need anything?”

[no answer]

Apparently, he doesn’t like questions. They put him on the spot and, I’m cluing in, he’s already on the spot. That, plus, he’s onto me. He knows my questions are much more about me trying to alleviate my own discomfort than about what he might really need.

So I keep sitting. I’m nearby, but not too close. And certainly not in his face. The last thing you want to do is startle an egg on the ledge. I’ve learned a thing or two from police shows.

His eyes dart around. His shoulders are up to the ears he would have if he weren’t an egg, and his head is way forward. (Work with me). His brow is furrowed and his egg-chest is sunken in. His legs are twitching. Classic signs of tension. I notice these things and, am proud to say, say nothing.

It is now a quarter till dawn. We’ve been sitting on the ledge, he and I, for what feels like ever. Egg time moves verrrrry slowly. Especially in the dark.

At some point I stop pretending he’s not right here inside of me, a part of me. I get more curious. That’s about when he starts calming down. His body is still shaking but he seems less agitated.

But he sure does still look cold. I get a soft woolen blanket and very quietly, set it nearby. If he wants it, he’ll get it. I notice that he doesn’t flinch or pull away, and when I am back at a safe distance and seemingly not noticing, he reaches for the blanket and wraps it around him.

I sit and notice the urge to say something smart, to blame something—his upbringing, his estranged family, the Easter Bunny—and I bite my tongue.

Then I notice the urge to leave, to get up, to get busy, to turn on some screen or another. If I can’t fix things inside with my inner Humpty Dumpty and make this fear go away and never come back, then at least I can distract myself, no?

But I stay.

The Buddha, who apparently I’m no longer channeling because he has just come and joined us on the wall and now he looks just like the freaking Dalai Lama, says something to me in Tibetan. Or maybe it’s Pali. Not sure. But either way, I don’t understand.

I raise my eyebrow, as if to say, “Come again in a language I know?”

Notice I say, “as if,” because I don’t actually say that. At least not out loud. I’m catching on to this silence thing and how most things I say when I’m scared are really just blah-blah-blah and, quite frankly, I’m bored. Given the choice of scared and bored, or just scared, I’ll pick just scared. Just. As if! Still. You get my point.

So now it’s me. And Humpty Dumpty. And the Dalai Lama, who, I might add, looks to be smiling.

Smiling? you ask.

I know, right?

To be sure, it’s not like he’s laughing at us or anything. It’s more a smile like he’s onto something I don’t quite get. Yet. The “yet” is definitely implied. Whew! And also? It’s a warm smile. Very warm. As if to say: “all is really truly OK, including you.” As if—get this—he has confidence in me.

I want to say, “But Your Holiness Mr. Lama, I’m very scared. And I don’t know shit. And I’m just one girl. And look! Humpty! Who will put him together again if he goes and jumps?”

But I don’t. Because I’m practicing silence. And sitting. And noticing, by way of writing, which is my way.

Thank goodness for pens, curiosity capes and listening caps. Best secret powers, ever.

Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking. Live in silence.
Slow down and down in always widening rings of being.
–Jelaluddin Rumi

Comment zen: I heart comments. What my story sparks for you? Your own experience with fear? With waking up at dark:thirty? Encouragement that I keep writing and that you want more? Yesss!

BUT/AND: Please refrain from psychoanalyzing or offering advices. Thank you!

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