Outside of my anxiety I have natural, healthy, balanced emotional responses to life – I experience grief when people die, fear when the car behind me breaks too slowly, anger when I witness injustice, happiness in response to good news – my intuition is a guiding star – when I’m still I can tap into an inner knowing and my heart will confidently take my hand and lead me through life’s tricky puzzles and mazes …
But inside my anxiety it’s a different story.
To me anxiety often feels like I’m a lion tamer in a P. T. Barnum circus – clutching my little wooden stool and my handmade leather whip while hungry lions circle me… any sense of control is a complete illusion…
Except anxiety is worse, because emotions are far wilder lions – they’ll rip you apart from the inside out.
I find water fascinating – it can feel so neutral, safe even, captured in a glass in my hand – but there’s a dark side to water. Too much and it will kill you, not enough and you’ll die…
Sometimes that’s how I feel about my heart and brain too – my own life support system is killing me – crushing me, beating me to the ground.
Inside anxiety, feelings don’t tell you the truth.
Feelings communicate our emotions and emotions are like the weather.
Emotions are like the weather.
Emotions are like the weather.
I’ve learnt to remind myself over the years that emotions are like the weather.
I love looking at buildings, especially old buildings, and wondering how many storms they’ve quietly stood through – how immovable they’ve been throughout all the weather they’ve witnessed.
I used to be (well, sometimes I still am) a feather, riding every emotional wave…but I’m learning that I’m not a feather, I am a building, allowing all my emotions to roll over me – sitting still – waiting out the storm.
It’s a picture that’s helped me a lot when I’m experiencing a swirling emotional day, a surge of anxiety… now I’m thinking maybe it’s true about my inner-life too.
I saw a meme this week – it was a picture of a sparkling clean, magazine-ready lounge room with the caption ‘sorry about the mess’.
That’s me. I love a tidy house. I’m that house-proud person who washes the dishes after every meal and squares everything away before bed. I can’t relax in a disorganised space. Even when I was little and sleeping over at friends’ houses, I’d ask if I could tidy their room for them – I feel like a tidy space gives me energy and a messy space sucks it out of me…like the saying goes, a cluttered house leads to a cluttered mind…and I honestly can’t afford to have any more clutter in my mind!
That’s probably why when I think about my inner-life I picture it to be a tidy house.
When I’ve delt with trauma it’s felt like clearning rubbish out of a house and restoring it – making it livable again.
I’ve spent so many years renovating my inner-life, doing the work that healing requires.
My inner-life felt so good 18-months ago, I felt like I could finally sit back and live in the little house I’d fought to rebuild.
And now it’s felt like all of that has burnt to the ground. It hasn’t just felt like bad weather – it’s felt like a tornado, followed by a tsunami, followed by a fire and then a snowstorm.
I’ve felt lost – off the map, in a little tugboat flung from the ocean into the stars.
I had a few days off, a few days attempting to re-engage with my mental health toolkit. Meditation, breathing, movement.
A little bit.
Then a bit more.
Then a bit less.
Then a bit more.
Two steps forward, one step back.
Unexpectedly I had a good day.
My little tugboat landed in the ocean, still lost, but finally home from space.
It felt too quick – I wasn’t expecting to feel better so quickly.
My inner-house was a mess, but not in the way I thought it was. I thought it had been destroyed but now I can see it was just very, very cluttered.
If there’s an underlying order to a house it’s amazing how quickly you can tidy it – because everything is out of place, but it has a place to go back to. That’s the difference for me in this time of chaos and times of chaos in the past.
Before, I hadn’t done the work to find order in my inner-world, so it was like working through a hoarders house. But now, because I’ve done the work, my house is in order and I have all these healthy structures in place – even when I stop using them for a year or so, the structure, the skeleton, the bones are still there, quietly waiting like a building standing in the storm. I’m not excavating trash; I’m putting laundry and toys away.
And quickly – I can see my tidy house emerging, as bright and sparkling as before.
I thought the mess was me failing to survive, but it was just bad weather.
Now I know I’m doing fine – it’s just bad weather – bad weather than I can engage with, sort, fold, and pack away.