There have already been so many defining moments in my six months to date of recovery from Anxiety and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. But reading this quote about the Devil and the Storm was a total game-changer. Until then I felt I was battling this invisible monster and I felt totally powerless in the face of its relentless attack.
I have always been in awe of the immense power of words and this reminds me why. I read this quote and immediately something in me changed. A powerful realisation took place that I wasn’t a helpless victim, that I didn’t have to listen to the voice in my head telling me I couldn’t do it, that I was weak, that I wasn’t strong enough. There was no monster, or storm, to fight. I chose there and then to stop fighting and ride the storm instead. I am the storm and I can choose how I use that power and energy.
Another great metaphor is swimming against the tide – it’s a pointless act that wastes a huge amount of energy and gets you nowhere except maybe being swept under the waves. But if you choose to relax and go with the wave, to ride it, you’ll save your energy and the wave will take you into the safety of the shore.
Sometimes you have to go against your natural instinct to fight and instead realise you don’t have to try so hard. It doesn’t mean not taking action, it means acceptance and choosing to have a different relationship with your Anxiety. It means using what energy you have to be active in learning what helps you and what are your triggers. Befriend Anxiety, be curious about what it’s trying to tell you, but don’t let it define who you are. It’s not the enemy. As I mentioned in my very first blog, I chose to make friends with anxiety and give it (her) a name – Geraldine (read my first blog to find out why!). I found this made Anxiety feel separate to me but also less of a threat, not something to be scared of. So now when I get that anxious feeling rising I ask Geraldine what she’s trying to tell me and thank her for letting me know that she doesn’t feel safe. I can reassure her that she’s ok and I can take action to deal with whatever it is she’s trying to tell me is wrong. I probably sound crazy, but it works for me (and I don’t talk to her out loud, which might get me some very wierd looks!).
I also think it’s about stopping trying to beat anxiety or get rid of it. It’s about learning to have a different, more accepting relationship with it. It’s just another emotion that’s sometimes there, and sometimes isn’t.
Amazingly the reaction to anxiety is often more of a problem than the anxiety itself. Learn not to be afraid of it. Stop resisting and instead accept it, let it come, even welcome it. When you’re not resisting or fighting it takes the wind out of its sails and it tends to dissipate far more quickly.
I had to very much put this into practice last week when, for various reasons, after a great few weeks of feeling really positive and getting some of my energy back, Anxiety grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. My initial reaction was frustration, disappointment and basically an entire day of crying. Then I remembered all that I’ve said here and put it into practice. I read again the quote about the Devil and the storm and re-found my strength. I delved into what the anxiety was trying to tell me (that I was trying to fight my emotions and hated ‘giving in’ to crying) and dealt with that, and gradually it lessened. I gave myself permission to cry without berating myself for being weak. I realised it was just an emotion that needed to be let out. The next day I felt a million times better.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Joseph Goldstein