I climbed the step stool to peer at the book titles atop the shelves in my closet, hoping to find this week’s must-share for the book review series. I prefer to hold a collection of words in my hand (the smell of a bookstore makes me giddy). But, nothing jumped out at me. So I grabbed my Kindle and opened it to my Book tab. And there it was . . . The Power of NOW: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle. Definitely in my top ten most-inspirational books of all time. This was the first book that created a shift in me, an awaking of new perspectives.
The author takes us on a journey into a deep place within us, a place where the truth is known “within every cell of (our) body”; beyond the masks we wear, the criticisms we’ve cloaked ourselves in, our over-thinker personas, fueled by the old doubts we’ve absorbed into our beings.
One of the most difficult, yet rewarding, ventures I have embarked on has been that of learning to silence my mind in order to truly hear. I, personally, believe I am in tune with my spirit guides, angels, The Universe, whatever you would like to call those spiritual nudges, when I purposefully stop the chatter in my mind and welcome the calm. But, wow, is that a difficult task to learn. However, I shout out an even louder WOW for having gifted myself the transition. This was a life-altering read in that I started the learning journey with this book and that would evolve into my healing journey.
I used to be, most assuredly, an “incessant thinker”, an over-thinker, a ponderer. The ever-persistent bearer of logic. And when I could not “logic” my way out of a panic attack, I felt even more broken. Oh my God, Teri, you’re fine. It’s just a bridge. Yet, there I would sit, mid-bridge, frozen and terrorized, shaking and wanting to leap from it just to escape the invisible monster haunting me.
The Power of Now gently took me by the hand and guided me toward an understanding of tranquility. Yes, it took tremendous effort to change habitual patterns and “disidentify from my mind,” however, I was worth it! Eckhart Tolle shares: “Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.” Oh. So. True.
To continue with my poetic analysis as I did with my book review of Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life by Dr. Wayne Dyer, here is the impact of The Power of NOW: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle:
Silence my mind As I am worthy There is only Now Not what was I am still in my Being I am light Free from Fear I know God by its flow Joy is my purpose I surrender to Now without judgment
Anticipatory anxiety is where a person experiences increased levels of anxiety by thinking about an event or situation in the future. Rather than being a specific disorder in its own right, anticipatory anxiety is a symptom commonly found in a number of anxiety related conditions, such as generalized anxiety. Anticipatory Anxiety can be extremely draining for people as it can last for months prior to an event. The worries people experience specifically focus on what they think might happen, often with catastrophic predictions about an event. The nature of negative predictions about the event will be the difference between an anxiety level that is incapacitating or merely uncomfortable.
A friend recently reached out to me prior to her drive from Cincinnati to Chicago to inquire about mindfulness practices. As she spoke, she talked about her fears of traveling alone, the possibility of heavy traffic, not knowing where she was going once she arrived in Chicago, and the known fact that she would be driving over bridges. All of which were causing her to experience heightened anxiety. I love it that she reached out to me, trauma-warrior research guru that I am, to discuss options.
I advised her to begin practicing mindfulness as that is my favorite go-to when experiencing anticipatory anxiety. I just happen to be working through my own bout with that pesky little symptom of my C-PTSD right now. We are preparing for a trip to Denver to visit my oldest son. While I am super pumped to see his cute face and the beauty of Colorado, I am also fretting flying, the high elevations, and being far from home.
I am well aware of these fears and why they are present, after my four year stint in EMDR therapy, so I honor their presence and just notice them without judgment. I remind myself these are physiological responses triggered by chemical surges in my brain in relation to past traumatic events. I am working at re-wiring my brain and creating new neural pathways, but that is still a work in process.
Think: brain pep talks! Do what scares you, Teri. You got this, girl!
My personal anticipatory anxiety goes something like this:
Lying in bed. Thinking about staying at The Grand Hyatt in downtown Denver with its rooftop pool and tennis courts. Then my knees start to sweat. Rooftop pool? How does that water not crack the roof and cause the building to crumble? Is there a guardrail? How high is it? Will I be able to ride the elevator up there? Will I feel it swaying? I swear, if that kid of ours goes near the edge, my heart will stop. I wonder how the drive is from the airport? I’m hoping we aren’t in heavy traffic. Especially on a busy highway. I’ll have to sit in the back. You should check out the city and enjoy it, Teri. No. What if you have a panic attack. You haven’t had one of those in a long time.
That all transpires in a mater of seconds. Ah, the joys of racing thoughts. But, then I reach into my coping skills tool box and start to pull out my calming strategies and redirect my thinking.
Deep breath. Closing my eyes slowly, I savor that breath. Now another. A smile creeps into the corners of my mouth. Another breath follows, even deeper. I reach over and grab a grounding stone lying bedside. I love this stone. It’s cool to the touch. And heavy in my hand. So smooth. Other than that rough little edge where it dropped into the gravel on a hike once. I wonder sometimes how long it might take for me to rub it smooth again. My fingers engage in their rhythmic dance along that edge.I’m excited to walk the one block trek from our hotel to the 16th Street Mall. I’ll let John pick a fun restaurant since he’s now a Denver pro. My sweet boy. The best hugger ever. Looking forward to that hug. If something triggers some anxiety, I’ll just hold onto his arm. He knows how to help his momma stay grounded. So blessed to have these children in my life. This trip is going to be amazing. I am going to savor every one of my senses. The sights of the city and atop the mountains in Estes Park. The tastes of new eateries. I wonder how crisp the air will be without Cincinnati humidity? I look forward to breathing it in, smelling The Rocky Mountain flora. We will definitely need to rent a boat on the lake so I can feel the cool water mist splashing onto my face. Oh, to hear the laughter of my children as they catch up with one another after months apart.
My anticipatory anxiety is now silenced. Perhaps it will poke its annoying head out of hiding again. But, I know how to put it in its place.
Back to my friend who was traveling to Chicago.
She called me today as she drove back home to Cincy. I was happy to hear her voice sounding perky. When I asked about her trip, she replied, “Oh, Teri, it was wonderful!” Yay! I then inquired about the six hour drive. She spent the next thirty-one minutes telling me about the strategies she used throughout her trip. How she brought along one of her stuffed otters someone had gifted her from the Cincinnati Zoo, having stuffed the little guy into a pocket of her purse, and reaching for him to touch the softness as she approached a sky-way bridge into the city. She discussed the pep talks she gave herself, You’re fine. You’re doing great. Just stay focused on your lane. The songs she sang along with and the phone calls she made in order to pass the time and keep her mind re-directed from anxious thoughts.
Her friend lives on the fortieth floor of a high-rise condo overlooking Navy Pier so her fear of heights was another anticipatory anxiety. She explained how the elevator ride was smooth and quick and her friend kept the shades shut in the bedroom in order to allow her to settle in. She took stunning photos of the scenery from forty floors above the city streets, but avoided stepping onto the balcony. Honoring her needs. I love that.
She also challenged herself to new adventures, such as an architecture tour of the city from a boat cruising along the Chicago River. Her friend praised her for how well she was doing throughout their escapades. She even watched the fireworks display through the windows of her friend’s condo upon returning from their day of tours and sight-seeing. She told me she continued to use mindfulness techniques to shake off her anxieties and enjoy the present moment. Again, I love this!
Mindfulness as defined by me: reminding myself to re-direct any old habitual scary thought patterns back to this moment, right here, right now, and all the joyous beauty to be found in it by use of my senses. I open myself up to all things smile-inducing in this moment in time.
So, how do you stop anticipatory anxiety? Practice mindfulness. As often as possible. Soon you will be living mindfully aware. And anticipatory anxiety may try to sneak in a word or two, but you can mindfully remind it to sit down and shut up. You have a beautiful life to enjoy without its input.
My little sister, Katie, and I hopped on a Frontier flight out of CVG, headed for Orlando, FL, on October 20, 2017. This was a big flippin’ deal for me! The girl with a thirty year history of severe panic attacks had decided her dreams were bigger than her fears . . . and the present-day pull on my soul was greater than the haunted whisperings of my past. I sent up a few prayers. Okay. I sent up a few hundred prayers, climbed on board (but, not before caressing the smooth white finish of the jet, peaking out from behind the end of the jet bridge, reminding it to “fly safely”) and strapped myself in, a rosary in one hand and my favorite green fluorite stone in the other.
The flight was smooth. I may have even taken a millisecond glance out the window, just for the sake of saying, “Yeah. I looked.” I lost myself in my Mindfulness coloring book, focusing on the strange joy which dances around my head as I watch the white of the page transition to neon and glitter shades as my gel pen scurries between the lines. Katie and I chatted about writing our books, wondering out loud what awaited us at the Hay House Writers’ Workshop, and celebrated the idea of experiencing our first-ever sister trip. Alone. No parents. No kids. No spouses. We were on an adventure together, reminiscent of those nights before Dad’s bedtime stories, spent pretending Katie’s waterbed, clad in its rainbow comforter, was a boat, lost and adrift on a vast blue ocean. We could see the island in the distance . . . a yellow throw rug in the shape of a hang-ten foot . . . too far to swim toward safely. Sharks were surrounding us. Yet the boat was sinking! We would dive from the bed, belly crawling our way through the shark-infested waters, yelling to each other, “Save the babies! Save the babies!” And one or the other would scoop up the Drowsy Doll, in her pink polka-dotted pajamas, blonde hair sticking straight up on end from too many years of being carried around by those locks. The other would grab the naked doll we had named Johnny, giving his belly a good squeeze so he would return a long squealing doll cry from that squeaky hole in his bottom. We always made it safely to shore, snuggled up and giggling on the foot rug, grateful for the momentary reprieve from our real-life traumas. Our grown-up adventure was bound to be the same.
We worked our way through the maze of the Orlando airport, tired and ready to crash in our resort room, eventually chasing down the Super Shuttle, as it pulled out of the parking space on the transportation platform. Scurrying into the back seat, I buckled myself in, and contemplated throwing my travel blanket over my head. I-4 traffic, at rush hour, on a Friday night. Oh, boy. I do not drive on highways. Ever. Or bridges. I have issues even being a passenger on little highway jaunts. Reminding myself I was on a soul-adventure and my calling to share my “story of hope” far surpasses my over-ingrained phobias, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for departure.
“We must pick up one more passenger,” announced the driver, his accent thick.
Where is this person going to sit? On my lap? I pondered as I tried to scooch over closer to my sister.
As the woman climbed into the backseat, she joked about fondling me, in her attempts to find the seat belt latch positioned under my ass. I laughed along and helped her out by crawling on top of my sister. Cozy. This could either help my highway nerves tremendously or trigger some of my “feeling trapped” anxiety. So, I came up with the ultimate in solutions . . . I closed my eyes!
A voice from my left addressed me about ten minutes into our ride and asked, loud enough for all to hear, “Teri, why are your eyes closed?” Yep. My sister.
Have you NOT been paying attention for the last thirty years?
Deep breath in. “Because I have highway anxiety. Closing my eyes helps.”
Then the voice from my right chimed in, “Really? Do you mind my asking why you have highway anxiety?”
I’m an open book. So, I shared the quick version of my trauma history and resulting C-PTSD diagnosis: alcoholic parent, physical abuse in childhood, multiple molestations, date rape, bank robbery with a co-worker stabbed with a hunting knife, bank robbery with a co-worker shot and murdered. Just the highlights. My eyes sealed shut even tighter.
The voice from the right, even softer in tone than a few moments earlier, “I am a trauma therapist.”
My eyes shot open.
Are you fucking kidding me? Of all the people in the world to squish in next to me on a shuttle ride, through rush hour traffic on a crazy busy highway in a city far from home, she turns out to be a trauma therapist! You rock, God!
My eyes locked onto the gentle gaze of a beautiful soul. Our smiles exchanged in new-found friendship. Paulette, the trauma therapist from Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, began sharing calming strategies. “Move your right foot up, toes lifted, while keeping your left foot down. Now alternate. Back and forth. As if doing a dance. One, two, three. One, two, three.” My feet tapped to the soft lilt of her instructions. My mind focused on the waltz happening in this shuttle. Far from the traffic zooming by, I was caught up in learning a new coping skill.
Almost an hour later, we halted the conversation, as we pulled into the Omni Resort drive. Our chatting had not paused since the moment Paulette had reached out with a hand to hold in heavy I-4 traffic. I now had an armful of coping strategies to add to my already overflowing toolbox of learned skills. I guess it’s time for a bigger toolbox!