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Mind Over Matter

Half a year ago, I found myself in a sterile, white, hurried emergency room on a Wednesday afternoon. I couldn’t breathe, no matter how much air I desperately tried taking into my lungs; I had tingles chilling my spine to the base of my neck; Seizing cramps overtook my arms, legs, and lower back; and I was overcome by an overwhelming belief - Hell, I was absolutely convinced, with each atom and every cell, that I was doomed to death, and ain’t nobody going to save me -- even in this overcrowded hospital. I was dying with each breath I struggled to make.

The doctor calmly asked a series of questions, and, upon my demands - took every possible test, blood-work, cat scan, x ray, even a second opinion, until I finally agreed to take the tiny white pill she had persistently been ushering my way. She came back with a folder of pamphlets, instructions, and research, and told me confidently and bluntly that I suffered from severe anxiety and panic disorder. Hang on --- What? What the fuck are you talking about? Thousands of thoughts popped in and out of my mind as I tried to be attentive with what she was saying, catching glimpses of  “psychiatrist”, “common”, “most people”, “symptoms similar to heart attack”, and finally, “you have to take one of these little white pills every time you feel stressed.”

I took the slightly lobotomized walk to the next-door pharmacy and picked up the bottle and sat silently on the ride home. I felt embarrassed, over-dramatic, unjustified, confused, scared… and finally, as we pulled into the drive, I recognized the strongest feeling coursing through my veins ----  anger. How could this happen to me? Why now? What does she mean I have this for the rest of forever? Even my own mind hates me, it's revolting against me. That thought: My own brain has tricked me into feeling helpless, alone, and sentenced to certain death, and all for what? For being stressed out at work? And now what......? I’m meant to stay floating somewhere in the middle ground day-to-day teetering on the edge as this magic little white pill lets my brain think it’s safe for a few hours? Until when? When will it stop? And then my thought process began to shift : How do I stop this? I have the power to stop this. I had some serious work to do.

I’m the type of person who - if I’m being frank, am the total black sheep of my family: I refuse pills. I hate medication. I won’t simply, “take something for it” - especially this. Something to poke holes in my brain and slowly decrease my ability to have control over my own will as my dependency upon it grows by the minute. I stared at the transparent orange bottle and made a vow to myself that I would not be reliant on these, that I would never see the bottom of that bottle, and that each day I could get through without needing to open it was a victory. And so, as expected, when I had a chat with my family, they encouraged me to “Just try this medication” or “Stay on those pills she gave you” and that “if you can get through the first 30 days, which are the toughest because you feel really down and a bit suicidal, it’s worth it.” I wondered, “Can you hear yourself?” What is this society that we are so comfortable existing in where that is a normal thing to say? And to mainstream society I said - fuck that.

I had to do some soul searching and figure out where all of this stemmed from, and really learn how to reconnect and take stock of what was happening on the inside - because clearly the method I had grown used to wasn’t working too well, and I needed to admit some shit to myself. I firmly believe in the power of mind over matter - that the body - mind - spirit, when nourished and aligned properly, is all you need to conquer what appears to be your self when it’s revolting against you. Usually, when it gets to that point, it’s reached that critical mass breaking level, and it’s your subconscious, and your higher self, asking for help. A little nudge going, “hey you - I’m in here, and you’ve been ignoring me lately.” And so, I did what I do best as an ambivert and I went inside myself (while still trying to be as open and honest and communicative with those on the outside as possible, because internalizing too much is very destructive, I’ve learned, and you push people away, and that hurts everyone, and sometimes people get sick of forgiving you so they just bow out). I walked to the bookstore, and I picked up some books on anxiety, on meditation, on the brain, on self-confidence, on communication, and then I grabbed a fresh notebook and a new slew of pens because I have an infatuation for fresh writing gear, and I made my way back to my apartment to overhaul all my emotional baggage.

The first thing I had to do was to stop being so damn hard on myself. That immediate knee jerk feeling of ‘embarrassment’ - where does that come from? Well - if I’m to be honest with myself, which is my new personal law - it stems from an early childhood of feeling shy, and having those feelings be nurtured with the assurance that it’s OKAY to be embarrassed, that it’s OKAY to feel ashamed, that other people ARE judging you, and that little voice in my head that pipes up saying “maybe you shouldn’t wear that today - go get changed.” That little sensitive soul inside was told to reconsider so often, that she begged for validation and approval from the outside world when she really only needed it from herself. So first and foremost - stop being embarrassed. Stop feeling like something is wrong with you. Stop feeling like anxiety is something that’s “happening to you” or that it's something you are a victim of; because if you play the victim card, the whole damn deck is going to keep laying itself out for you while you continue to spread yourself thin in support that, "Yay! you ARE a victim!" And the more you reaffirm something, like that you are a victim, or you are worthless, or unworthy, or X or Y or Zed, you are constantly perpetuating that belief and that affirmation that whatever you are saying is true (again, credence), and that deep down that's what you believe, and so, as law of attraction has it, it must be so- and it continues on a never-ending loop, all fueled by y-o-u. How dare that anxiety creep in and take you hostage! You are not a hostage in your own mind. You are not a hostage inside yourself. You have a choice. Not choosing, is still a choice. Choosing to be a victim, is a choice. Choosing to fight it head on, lift your head up, ask for help, and carry the bravery with each step as you try and learn and explore and change your thought patterns and your behavioral process, is as I see it, the best choice on the table. And it’s a much healthier (and yes, harder) option, than popping a little white pill when you feel freaked out. Especially when they just sit there taunting you, like "I've got the key to all your problems, all you have to do is come here and let me!" 

I’ve realized that anxiety, depression, panic disorder, plus all their little “sub-diseases” are so commonly diagnosed and so commonly prescribed for, that society tries to make us feel normal for going through it, and doesn’t encourage us to get out of the pit on our own, or show us that support. Instead, it happily hands us the drugs and sends us on our way. Solved! What if, instead, it was less looked upon as the few rebellious ones, like ME, were outsiders for not subscribing to the medication, and I was, and instead were celebrated for taking my life back and taking the hard route? Because usually in life, it’s the harder route that always gets you to the better lookout points anyways to sit back, relax, and stare at the view like, "Hell yeah, I did it." By identifying with these behaviors, and allowing them to define you, and by giving them credence, you are, inadvertently, feeding them and allowing them to grow as their roots take a much deeper hold on you with each panic attack. Keep in mind, I’m also not diminishing the severity of the paralysis that takes over upon having a panic attack or an anxiety episode - it is a very serious, very scary, very draining process. I obviously wouldn't have wound up in the hospital if I didn't think so, too. But I am saying, there are so many other options: podcasts, books, therapists, and even apps available for helping you conquer it. Wouldn’t you rather conquer it than play its victim?

I listened to a heavily researched podcast that utilized therapists and science alike to describe some quick and easy tactics when you’re going through the easy stages of an attack - like getting up immediately and changing your environment. Walk to the kitchen, focusing intensely on each step, and get yourself a glass of water - only honing your focus specifically on each action one at a time for what you’re doing. Slowing your breathing. Things like that. Things that, in the moment, make massive differences in how the next few minutes play out and slowly coax you out of that reactive memory habit that has formed whenever you're triggered. I also found an app called Pacifica, which is the single most amazing program I think I could have ever stumbled on. Not only do you play your own therapist (goodbye, fear of judgment from others or your "I don't believe in therapy" bullshit), but it also gives you breathing and meditation exercises, keeps a health log, gives you gentle nudges asking how you’re doing throughout the day, and now comes equipped with a community option where you can join certain group chats and share what you’re grateful for, or reach out when you feel you can’t sleep or get past the work day with the support of a sea of other people going through the exact same shit you are. This app genuinely sped up my healing process so rapidly, that looking back on it now, what felt like eternity at the time only appears as a little blip on the life map. Another amazing recommendation I can make to those of you suffering from similar things, is a book called The Compassionate-Mind Guide to Overcoming Anxiety. And it does exactly that. We don’t need to cradle or baby ourselves through these processes with a poor-me attitude, but it does help to be less “doctor talk” and approach things more from a level of kindness to ourselves, because usually it’s that long term neglect that leads us to these moments where we start to panic. It discusses the link way back into caveman days of how threat and fear and survival mode clicks on because it’s how our species used to deal with adrenaline -- and how certain work, life event, death event, and daily moments can trigger those impulses in our brain, seemingly out of nowhere. But the funny thing is, knowing it from a scientific level, and then being able to relate to it on an emotional level, really opens up the floor for you to feel comfortable in yourself again, and be able to recognize symptoms logistically when they’re happening and figure out pretty quickly how to move forward.

Since that time I spent realizing how deeply I needed to connect with myself again, I’ve been taking daily moments to listen to myself (again, with help from The Art of Communicating and similar titles - Thich Nhat Hanh is extraordinary at gently guiding you through your inner-workings), to celebrate myself, and to continue exploring and developing myself, with the help of some very compassionate and influential people. And I often have those “aha” moments when I’m able to talk through and reconcile a childhood experience that pops up where I go, “ohhh - so that’s probably why now I would knee-jerk THIS way” or “that person played such an existential role in my adolescent development, their behavior then is now affecting my ability to handle these types of situations.” And it’s amazing how, when you let go of that fear, self-inflicted judgment, embarrassment, worry, anxiety, panic, each moment you go through that allows you to objectively connect with yourself on a deeper, long-term level, you feel proud, excited, and on your own little personal honesty high that makes you want to keep growing each day. I don’t know why that’s not celebrated as frequently as just popping a pill.

To wrap it up, my point is that you shouldn’t be afraid of yourself; don’t be scared, everyone goes through shit! The majority of the time they're so completely consumed by their shit they don't have half a second to notice or care about yours, so why should you be doing the judging FOR them? Relax. Don’t be afraid of yourself - especially when a doctor hands you a shitload of paperwork and a prescription for a ‘disease’ that is ‘happening to you’ that you seemingly ‘have no control over.’ I realize that this is a very common diagnosis, with very popular side effects, and it’s become sort of a ‘thing you say’ like ‘oh I have anxiety’ or ‘oh I suffer from panic attacks.’ when it really takes a simple (not easy, don't confuse simple with easy) shift of the mind to say to yourself, hang on, I got this. Because as many people are going to tell you “no you don’t, take the pills, this is your life, forever”, I’m here to say “yes you fucking do, because I did, and look at me now - sans anxiety.” That doesn’t go to say I don’t start to feel that familiar chest fluttering every once in awhile if I’m in a crowded restaurant at night, or while I’m on a phone call with someone who used to hair-trigger my stress, but by being determined and mindful I manage it, and I fight against it with a strong lion heart and refuse to let it take over. So if I can do that - if I can let that be my sole belief --- that “I got this” mentality, so can you. You just have to make the choice, and don’t feed it the fear that it needs to survive, but instead choose to look at it as mind over matter, mind-body-spirit, and take it on head-first with that lion heart strength I know is inside of you.

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