Trigger Warning: discussion of mental illness, anxiety, panic attacks, trauma, drugs, self harm & cursing.
***************I apologize in advance if any of this triggers or feels offensive to anyone who suffers or loves someone who suffers. I hope that this can be heard as my still unfolding understanding of my own experience. I share it with a shaky tender heart as honestly as i can. This is not intended to be a judgement or a ‘how to’ for anyone else’s process. I am sharing part of a process of re-cognition. I think and hope that my honest share can save someone else some unnecessary struggle and offer hope and kinship on the path to self knowledge and healing.*****************
Still fucked up after all these years…!?
I talked to Mom today. I miss my Mom. She’s on the East coast and i only see her once a year these days. I haven’t called for months. I am feeling like a bad daughter. My absence = my guilt.
Guilt, blame & shame are the heritage of my lineage.
Talked to my life partner about our mutual beloved whom i have previously hurt emotionally by being harsh. She still doesn’t trust me. Still repeating stories of my past ignorance, frustration and struggle that have caused her pain. I feel my shame/ guilt trigger kick in and my tone/ energy become defensive.
I am sitting at the computer for a rare two hours in this overworked month to tackle a challenging list.
I call my daughter to see about her making her way home from college, her FAFSA needing completing, etc.. She tells me that FAFSA is my job as i sit before a mountain of things to do, and i am looking at the payments i have made to her school. As i sign on to try to find her FAFSA my own OLD school loans pop up and remind me of decades of shame.
Passwords, taxes, marital status (or lack thereof), debt, confusion, ...stress….
“Something” in all of that triggered what i am now recognizing as a subconscious reactive pattern showing up in the form of an anxiety/ panic attack.
I have previously vehemently avoided labels. Since i was first “diagnosed” i have rejected the naming as it came with prescriptions (more on that later). I have entirely resisted considering that i had an anxiety disorder or panic attacks my whole life.
Meanwhile, my mother is in a constant state of depression and so stuffed with the unexpressed emotions of her traumatic experiences that she seems (to me) ready to burst with violent outbursts or tears at any moment. My stepfather as well, always angry and depressed. I have lived with all of these as my default states. I was born with a rebellious, ebullient nature which i was too rarely able to express safely. I was beaten and shamed for being too loud, crazy, expressive, emotional, for singing!, etc…
So, back to yesterday - I felt my nervous system “short circuiting” - that is the best way that i can describe it. That familiar feeling of edgy, over-full, jittery, jarring, about-to-explode energy. My breath gets short. My heart races. My muscles, especially my jaw, neck and shoulders, tense extremely. There is a physical response (to the situation) that i feel is largely out of my control.
I know i want to be calm and show up reasonably and responsibly for my daughter. But what i am feeling is not rational. I cannot think it away. I cannot breathe fully. I try. I practice breathing everyday. I try to lengthen the exhale. I try to get a bigger inhale. I try to relax my nervous system. It is not enough. I cannot get enough breath. I feel as though i am drowning, suffocating…
I am still crazy after all these years, after all of this work… (this is the thought that wants to keep imposing itself, that wants me to feel helpless, suicidal and quit trying).
Still trying to breathe deeper, i try to explain to my nearby partner what is happening to me physically. I ask for help, “Touch me, ground me, i need pressure on my shoulders...rub the base of my skull…” I offer directives as specifically and calmly as i can but i feel scared, and so he feels scared and tentative, hesitant.. This only makes me more upset.
I’m asked what’s wrong, “did something big happen that i missed?” It’s a fair question, and it’s triggering, like the story inside that there is something wrong with me for having these kinds of feelings…
It is unexplainable. It’s the way that i have always been under pressure. Except usually i freak out, scream, yell, hit things, break things, run away…
Today i do not run. I choose not to freak out. I sit and watch the raging fire, i take what breath i can while feeling like i’m drowning...
I can see it more clearly now. I am not this feeling. I need not be consumed or subsumed by this feeling.
After years of practice and being more and more able to quell these feelings, i can SEE what is happening and i am not caught up in it entirely. There is space between “it” and “me”. This is not me. This is my body. This is fight/ flight/ freeze response. This is a subconscious reactive pattern. This is the circuitry that was wired and fired during early trauma to protect me. Here it is, rearing its ugly head, trying to protect me again. The velocity of the response is as though a tiger is coming.
It takes 2 minutes to shift our physiology. I know this. The thought is there along with the witnessing of my feeling of out of control physiology.
I feel like the breathing is not working. I want to quit trying, i want to scream…
JUST> Keep> BREATHing.
I kept breathing. I turned away from the triggers of technology and finances. I ate food. It is not how i would choose to calm but food does calm me. I remembered forward folds - they help. Pressure on my head and body helps. Sound helps; sighing, moaning, singing (if i can get enough breath!). Yelling helps too but then i always have to deal with the consequences of “being crazy”, of hurting/ scaring someone else too which just continues the tangle of this messy head business. Trying not to yell…
Things quelled. Something new had happened. I wasn’t clear on it yet.
I went to teach my evening classes. Humbled. I spoke to breath practice - the need to create foundation for when we need something to hang on to, so that we have a default level of understanding/ trust that we can fall back on when it feels like breath is not enough. So that when we feel ‘crazy’ we can just keep breathing. Observe the fear and trust the process. We can get to know in our bones that it all will keep changing… Although in the moment it can feel like the end of the world.
Breath is catchy - like yawns, when people around us are stressed and breathing shallowly or calm and deep breathing, we can feel it and tend to do the same things subconsciously This is where our early conditioning often begins, from our parents modeling.
I was born into a traumatized, stressed out, reactive family. As a teen in recovery i found yoga. I stuck to yoga because right away i felt more connected than i ever had in mind, spirit and body. It was literally awe inspiring to feel such a connection with the layers of self like i never had before. Mind body and spirit greeted one another consciously for the first time. I felt my first melting, my first glimpse of open awareness.
The next day I sent my daughter this text;
“Good day my love. I want to apologize for my anxious communication yesterday. I am really working to not let those physical reactive patterns eat my head and disrupt connection and yet, sometimes, in the moment, or for a couple of minutes, even focused on deep breathing, i fail. I am on my moon, i am overbooked right now and sometimes my nervous system just feels like it is short circuiting, it’s more and more rare these days and i am having more space to witness it so i am realizing more what is happening. I know you have lived with me being this way your whole life. Im sorry. I’ll try to recognize the triggers more and back off and ask for help or go to my practices sooner. Anyways, i love you. I want you to be able to be at ease even when there is a mountain of things to do before you… i am still learning that.. I hope that you can more easily.
… thank you, i love you, please forgive me...
She called me back as i drove yesterday. I realized while talking to her that i have an anxiety disorder that i have had my whole life. I inherited this from my family. I had not named it before. I realized that I and my family all have what is now called anxiety and depression and that i / we/ the world has passed it on to another generation.
As a teen i was suicidal, I self medicated, became a full blown daily user, addicted to cocaine from 14-16+ years old. I hit bottom hard and fast. I / the grace of the divine got me to the authorities and I got sober.
I have broken many chains, but not all. My daughter breaks more. Together in our processing we grow up, we evolve.
In rehab i was told i was manic depressive amongst other things and that i should take drugs (the message i got) for these things. I was trying to kick drugs! I was rebelliously perplexed at being offered drugs. I now realize that besides trying to escape my self loathing, misery, shame and abusive home life by doing drugs that i was trying to balance out my own chemistry.
It would have been nice if we were taught how our brains work in rehab. I guess we (as a culture) have now learned so much more about neuroscience and trauma that maybe those in charge didn’t actually have the means to share then? I certainly have learned so much more and am on fire to share the learning.. I think it could save many lives. Hence, this vulnerable share.
Anyways, i talked to my daughter and apologized for not seeing / knowing / accepting that i had an active anxiety disorder while she was growing up. I had rejected all labels as they seemed to come with drugs, excuses, and “poor me” / victim mentality. My baseline (thanks to my survival-oriented mom) has always been to work hard to make the changes that need to be made, to fight (thanks dad), and tough it out through whatever arises: all feelings (except maybe anger) aside. I was able to make much change and have profound healing from this old school place of thinking, and presently i continue to awaken to more healthful ways to grow and change.
So when my daughter began to have panic/ anxiety attacks i thought she was “catching” them from her friends as many of her friends were experiencing some sort of these at the time. It seemed to me to be a trend. I wondered where she got this way of reacting to life.
Was it because i had had scary outbursts and now she did not trust life and would break down in fear? She would not let me touch her during her episodes. It was so hard for me. I felt so much guilt and shame and really wanted to fix it. Yet, i also told her she didn’t need professional help. Ignorance.
I pushed her to not let the thoughts get to her, to think positively, to breathe more deeply, to have physical practices to move energy. These things can be helpful, we both now acknowledge, but at the time, I made it worse for her. They don’t always work immediately or fully in the moment of “attack”, or at least being told to do them by your hard ass mom doesn’t necessarily help in the moment. She felt (she tells me now) like something was really wrong with her. She didn’t understand (as i didn’t) why she was feeling helplessly, uncontrollably the way that she did.
I tried to make her tough, like i was made tough. I told her to toughen up, that she would not be able to get through life with this kind of weakness. It was not until i read Ta Ne-hisi Coates’ book, “Between the World and Me,” where he apologizes to his son for trying to make him tough, that i truly realized and had such lamentable sorrow for what i had done to my baby.
I am (once again) realizing how much i can stop being “tough” and soften even more, slow down even more… This has been my recurring lesson for decades now.
I am so sorry, babe...I seem to be such a slow and resistant learner.
We talked about how, when she had these things (emotional/ physical reactive patterns) going on that she was glad that she knew they had a name so that she could research (thank you internet!) and learn more. She found communities of people dealing with the same things and supporting each other.
This broke my heart a bit more open, for her and for my young self - forcefully pushing through where i could have been supported. If i had more information, if i had known/ accepted/ acknowledged “labels,” then i could have supported her more...I could have moved beyond feeling like i was “fucked up” my whole life, hating on myself, ashamed of where i came from, and thereby perpetuating the patterns! No matter how much work i did, the reactive patterns kept reappearing. Over the years, more space came between incidents, but i still had a long line of beloveds who thought, just as i did, that i was “crazy”. I ashamedly received their decree because i believed it. I didn’t know any better then, now i do.
I am not “fucked up”. You are not “fucked up”.
It is arguable whether or not the world is fucked up.
Either way, we have sensitive, pliable, and resilient nervous systems. We can repattern our thought/ feeling connections and thereby affect the chemicals that pour into our system as a cellular response to emotions. We can change our physiology. It helps to understand what is happening. Labels can be good for this. Research and community are helpful. None of us need be victim to our genealogy.
We have the power to make choices, to take action, to change and to break the chains of inherited conditioning, subconscious response due to trauma and threats that are no longer present. We now have tools, wisdom, and support at our fingertips. It is a blessing of this technological age. The information and resources we need to be supported (including pharmaceuticals and plant medicines) are readily available. These can be powerful, necessary things to help us through transitions.
My experiences have taught me how powerful my mind/ thoughts/ emotions are.
My perspective is that we ALL have the power to change these things within ourselves. When we do, the world around us changes… and it ripples out…
My purpose is to continue to heal and unfold the unabashed fullness of my Self and to help and inspire others to do so as well.
Let us abolish shame. Shame is a killer. It literally causes inflammation in the body. Science has taught us that inflammation is the root cause of all (?) chronic pain and illness. Let us honor our own processes and one anothers’. We get well together.
Some things I’ve found to help release feelings of panic/ anxiety/ anger/ depression;
*counting visual or musical patterns
*rubbing gently the base of the skull/ cranial nerve 10 - the vagus nerve
*screaming into a pillow, toning, chanting, humming, growling, singing
*meditation, ultimately it will create the space to witness/ be with rather than react or identify with the feelings
*studying and truly knowing (thru practice) that it takes less than 2 minutes for an un-storied emotion to pass thru your system (see Jill Bolte Taylor, “My Stroke of Insight”)
*un-story your emotions, take the shame out of them! Honor your feelings by witnessing without judgement. Let the energy MOVE through you.
*notice how your day can turn from wonderful to terrible in an instant and how you can choose to do the opposite and turn a terrible moment into a wonderful one. Wonder & curiosity help.
*anything that brings you back into your body Eat, run, shake, do yoga, massage yourself, hug a tree (really!;)
*don’t get stuck thinking one thought - keep shifting your attention
*continue to seek out new methods of helping yourself!
For references to mind/body/ emotional healing and neurobiology i want to honor some of the sources i have learned from and encourage you to investigate more of; Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Dr. Bruce Lipton, Dr. Candace Pert , Dr. Mario Martinez & Dr. Darren Weissman.
Deep gratitude and honoring to my generous and and courageous daughter, Ola'i for her willingness to share this story unedited. I checked in with her with NO pressure to share it all. She was completely open to the full share. Ola'i you are my greatest teacher of all. I love you beyond words. Thank you for all that you are.
& to all of my Yoga teachers, to all of my students as teachers, Thank YOU! It is an honor and blessing to be on this path of unfolding fullness with you all.
Great honor and respect to all of the lineages and teachers of yoga that encourage self knowledge and expansion. May India flourish and benefit multifold from the immense catalogues of wisdom that have been so generously shared with the world. May we all know times of peace where we can be so blessed to have time to study and grow in a good way.