Anxiety and a ‘good’ life
Anxiety and a ‘good’ life
I used to be very anxious. As a young woman I tried to be a ‘good’ person and live a ‘good’ life, taking on certain behaviours that I now see were my attempts to cope with anxious thoughts and feelings. I drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes, chewed my fingernails and worried about everything, all of the time, even though I knew that none of those things were ‘good’. I tried to escape into books from a reality which made me feel anxious from a very early age. Yet I did not consider myself to have anxiety – I just thought that is how I was, that is how people are, that is how life is.
I was raised to think that life had to be lived a certain way and that I had to be a certain way in life, and I went along with it all, even when it did not feel true to me. I grew up thinking I had to achieve, to perform well, to be a ‘good’ girl, a ‘good’ student, a ‘good’ daughter, professional woman, friend, wife, mother, community member … and so the list goes on.
My parents were very ‘good’. They were kind and lovely people, and hardworking, impeccable professionals. They liked to reward themselves for their hard work at the end of the day with a drink… or a few… and they smoked, which was usual at the time, even though they were both doctors. I found both of these habits distasteful and vowed I would never do them when I grew up. But because I had chosen to go along with being ‘good’, it was almost inevitable that I would end up behaving like them in other ways as well.
I had trouble being ‘good’. I did not like doing some of the things I was supposed to be good at. And I did not like the way I was asked to be good, even if it did not feel true. Like when we would visit friends and I was told to be nice to one of the older men who was interested in me. It did not feel good in my body at all. But I looked around me and saw no other way of being in life, no role models of anything but the ‘good’ so I outwardly went along with the good, while inwardly seething with confusion and resentment and rebellion.
You cannot sustain such a way of being without feeling incredibly uncomfortable inside and I started resorting to behaviours to try and take the edge off feeling this way. Sugar was a real treat in our house and our father would bring home an ice-cream for each of us on Sunday mornings, which was our version of Holy Communion. My use of sugar to help me feel ‘good’ grew as I did to include alcohol and cigarettes (freely available at home and the only drugs I had access to). Later the use of alcohol opened me up to flirting, then sex … anything that would take the edge off my feelings and give me some relief, no matter how short lived and no matter what the short and long term consequences.
I was under a lot of tension, and so I was seeking A LOT of relief. But none of the measures I was using were true and lasting; in fact they amplified and escalated my anxiety and in turn my ‘coping’ behaviours, to the point where I was not coping at all and my life was spiralling out of control.
I tried so hard to control my drinking, to drink like a ‘normal’ person, to be ‘good’. Every day I would wake up and say, ‘no more’, and then as the day went on, ‘just one’, and once I had that one, I had little to no control over what would happen next. I knew that opening a bottle of alcohol would open me up to energies that could take me anywhere and have me doing almost anything. For that reason, I did most of my serious drinking at home alone, as I knew I had almost no control over what would happen once I started.
A stop moment, a pause from the routine of daily life, by going into rehab to try and stop drinking, showed me how anxious I really was. Without the alcohol to take the edge off my anxiety I suffered my first panic attack – in a public swimming pool – and thought I was going to die. I then started to look at how I was feeling and why and started to ‘work on myself’ using whatever means I could find. As well as working with conventional medicine, psychiatry and counselling, I explored the spiritual new age, self-help groups, meditation, yoga, exercise, whatever apparently healthy way I could find to support me in life.
To be honest, I found them all wanting. Some would provide some relief for at least the time I was practising them, but sooner or later the underlying feelings of anxiety, of tension, would re-emerge.
But through living in a more healthy way, I did come to realise that the more deeply I cared for my body, the less the anxious and otherwise destructive thoughts could have their way with me. And if I got tired, hungry or thirsty, or otherwise overwhelmed, it was easier for the anxious thoughts to take hold.
I started to get a sense that the thoughts were not mine to own, that they flowed through me, much like a stick floating down a stream, and I could latch onto them or let them pass me by. And the more loving I was with myself, the more connected with and caring for my body, the less the anxious thoughts took hold and the less anxious I felt.
I discovered that if I lived in a way that was true and loving for me, I felt far more at ease and settled in my body, and I was less likely to attach to and entertain any thoughts that were not true and loving for me. Whereas when I lived in a way that was not loving for me, I was more likely to indulge in thoughts that I was weak, wrong, stupid, bad, a fraud, not good enough, which would then lead me to seek relief in the behaviours that reinforced the ill thoughts and feelings I had for myself, added to by the guilt and shame of behaving in a way that I knew was not ‘good’ at all, let alone true for me.
So, I began to ask myself: Where do these thoughts come from? Are they truly ours? Or do they come from somewhere? I came to understand that there is a pool of energy that feeds us these thoughts, that they are not in truth ours, but that we, with our choices, our living way, feed the pool of energy that then feeds us the thoughts we think are ours. This pool of consciousness is familiar to us all. It keeps us identified as separate individuals, in separated groups of family, nationality, religion, culture. It has us thinking that ‘blood is thicker than water’, that ‘family comes first’, that there are specific ways to grow up in a family, to have a family and to be in life. But these ways are not in truth ours, they come from a group consciousness that is designed to have us living in separation to the truth of who we are.
This may sound outlandish at first, but over the years I have experimented with it and have come to know it to be true. And the more loving I am with myself and with everyone around me, the more I know there is another collective of energy, the true source we are from, that sustains us, inspires us, settles us and opens us up to the truth of who we are.
The two sources of energy, and the thoughts and feelings they produce, are so starkly different that it is simple to discern which energy is running us. It is then up to us whether we indulge in the energy of the spirit, that makes us feel anxious, ill-at-ease, and never good enough, or whether we allow ourselves to enjoy the deep settlement that can only be felt when we are connected with our Soul.
I still get anxious, very anxious at times, but only for a moment. For if thoughts come in that unsettle me, I feel that in my body now and ask myself, what am I connected to? Am I connected to the source – the spirit – that makes me feel like I am not ‘good’ enough, that I can never be enough, no matter how hard I try, that makes me feel ill-at-ease, with myself and everyone and everything around me, and has me wanting to withdraw, hide and isolate myself? Or am I connected with the source – my Soul – that reminds me I am already everything, that I already have access to everything I need inside me, that I am an integral part of a one interconnected whole, that I am loved no matter what I do, and that I am love. This knowing supports me to open up to everyone and everything and to feel deeply settled in my body and my being.
The antidote to anxiety? In truth, it is as simple as a loving and consistent connection with our Soul.