Friday, June 19, 2009

small triumphs

It really is one step at a time, this life! It is late and I should be sleeping, but instead I have been lying awake thinking about this and wanting to share it, because it feels good to take small steps forward.

Tonight while I was driving home from book club (where we are studying Last Child in the Woods--HUGE recommendation for this book! I'll post more about that later) with Riley asleep in his car seat, I forgot to account for a newly developed jog in the road and nearly crashed. Going about 50% faster than the posted speed limit, no less. I overcorrected a bit and wound up in the next lane over, but fortunately it was late and there were no other cars around so we were fine.
This story is ripe with anxiety fodder. Rotting with it. The stuff of panic attacks. And my mind defaults to the worst crash imaginable, with the worst outcome (rollover crash with Riley ejected from the car), BUT. I did not allow myself the indulgence of imagining any horror or crashing or emotional toll taking, but rather reasoned with myself in a more balanced manner. "I didn't crash because I have quick reflexes, which I can trust. I did come rather too close for comfort to the edge of the road, but my mind knew the visual input wasn't matching my memory of the road, and reacted accordingly. I can trust myself. I am a good driver." And I remained calm.

Remember in the fall when I fell in the parking lot of the mall while carrying Riley and it was really scary? And then when I fell walking down my stairs while carrying Riley? And then fell down the stairs carrying Riley AGAIN?!? Those three times I had anxiety attacks afterwards because it was so scary and because I encountered all manner of mangled, damaged baby in my mind as I lived and relived those falls. This was similar in that it had potential for danger, but was not in the end an incident that caused any injury~~the difference lies in that my treatment group for my anxiety disorder TAUGHT ME how to DEAL with my tendency to believe so strongly that death, tragedy, and danger are imminent and that it is simply a matter of time before they take over my life.

It is a small triumph, I realize, since most of you are able to take a missed jog in the road in stride. But I am not able to, which is what makes it a triumph that I was able to put it into rational context and NOT panic about it! I'm so happy about this.

And about the falls: I have concluded that the reason I fell so many times in such a short period of time is that I was visualizing myself falling so often. EVERY time I walked near the stairs, MOST of the time I was walking holding Riley, and often when I was sitting or lying down, I would picture myself falling and Riley being injured, and all versions of how horrible that would be (the rest of my time was taken with making sure Riley wasn't dead of SIDS and that the kids' car seats were installed correctly in a desperate kharmic balancing act with the Universe to be vigilant enough to earn the priviledge of one more day with my kids). Visualization is really powerful in a positive context and can help people achieve major accomplishments in life, including Olympic feats and job interviews and public appearances. Apparantly it is true in the negative, also. Visualizing oneself falling repeatedly can actually make you (me) more likely to actually fall in real life. So interesting! My life now, though I still struggle with some anxiety, is so much more peaceful than it was last fall. I had lots of joy, but no peace. Now I have both.

Also, on the ferry on Monday I had some wicked anxiety brewing over Riley being on the outer deck of the ferry because it is so close to the water. All my brain wanted to do was picture him falling over the side in some horrible accident and what I would do to rescue him (dive in, obviously, since he would sink like a rock), but I fought it and fought it and managed to stay on the outer deck in the sunshine and NOT allow myself to go there in my mind, and to enjoy the water and the sun and the wind in our faces....

Which scene is somewhat ironic, since years before I was married I was in a very dark place and wished many times to disappear beneath that same dark backwash of the ferry, and realized I was out of that darkness when I regained a healthy fear of the water. Now my fear of that water wants to grow to epic proportions, to an equally dysfunctional place on the other end of the spectrum. Is there no peace in this life? Heal from one thing only to walk straight into the mouth of a lion? Who knows.
But I know there IS a measure of peace, and I've been able to claim it in a small way for myself, which feels really big. And to which I say, Thank You, Universe (you know who you are), your yoke is actually quite light, and I am grateful. I am learning.


Rachel Clear said...

I'm proud of ya.

I'm not normally prone to anxiety. That is, I wasn't, in the past. But lately, I am. Maybe some of your anxiety-fighting-awesomeness will rub off on me via the world wide web.

Good job, Melissa!

(I'm right there with you on visualizing the worst. Last night we had dinner with friends with 2 small kids and the whole time I was envisioning their 2 year old falling down the deck stairs that he was so precariously looming near...aaack!)

Tamie said...

This is wonderful: "Is there no peace in this life? Heal from one thing only to walk straight into the mouth of a lion? Who knows."


And also, peace is possible.

Thanks for this post. I'm so glad you share the steps with us, big and small.

And Rachel, oh Rachel. We love you. You are going to be okay. I wish I could hug you right now.

Mel and I have both walked through our share of Big Stuff, and I'm going to go ahead and speak for both of us and say that we are both very much in your corner.


Thanks, Mel.