Friday, January 27, 2012

Living Beyond Embarrassment ...


Living Beyond Embarrassment:

“Living Well” with Anxiety

(A Coming Out of the Closet Story)

I have had this phrase said to me more times than I can count: “You’re too sensitive.”

In fact, one of my earliest memories from childhood is of my dad (God bless him) saying this to me. I know he didn’t intend any harm by saying this. I imagine he was simply fit to be tied with yet one more episode of distress, my sensitivities being the root cause.

I was a rather nervous child. I had a lot of stomach aches at school, and often wanted to come home to the quiet of our house where I could rest and watch old black and white movies on television.

I was also very sensitive to noise and commotion. Too many people, too much going on, and I could easily find myself begging my parents to take me outside or home ... where I felt “safe.”

As you can imagine, over the years, a low level anxiety about life settled in to my infrastructure. In time, and due to a number of life crises (including health issues), my anxiety levels rose. Undiagnosed—simply believing I was just too sensitive and learning how to cope with that in my own unique way—anxiety peaked in the early 1990s and resulted in a year long journey through chronic fatigue.

Life had become “too much.” My body/mind response was to crash and burn. Exhaustion. Full-blown anxiety, even panic attacks, could only be dealt with by closing out the world, pulling the covers over my head, and sleeping for hours on end.

Though, ironically, at the time, I still didn’t know that what I was experiencing was textbook anxiety.

Thankfully—thankfully!—during that time, as I became dedicated to restoring my health as holistically as possible, I discovered “the Dharma” in the form of mindfulness, and the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. Mindfulness practices, I believe to this day, saved my life. Awareness by newfound awareness, practice by practice, my health and well-being were restored.

Anxiety would took a backseat as long as I was living mindfully. And when I wasn’t, when the pace of life picked up again, I’d tumble back into its throes. This ebb and flow of wellness/illness lasted for many years, though I disguised it very well.

Most of the people in my life did not know that anxiety was at the core of my struggle—the “too muchness” of life. I hid it well and put on a brave front. “She’s just a little too sensitive and she gets tired easily,” was their understanding of my plight.

Anxiety peaked for me in the late 90’s. I had my first book out, was writing my early magazine columns, was the director of a personal/spiritual growth center for women, the busy mom of 3 children (ages 7, 12 and 14), constantly car-pooling, and paper-training a new puppy. Once again, life felt overwhelming. 

Crashing and burning again, this time accompanied by heart-pounding, breath-sucking, body shaking anxiety, I spent a month navigating agoraphobia—a fear of leaving my house, a fear that I’d have a panic attack, pass out, and no one would find me, or I’d just die on the side of the road—at least that was my experience of it. Anxiety plays wicked tricks with your mind.

Thankfully—thankfully!—I was able to find my way back to center—on my own, still officially undiagnosed, with the use of mindfulness, breath-work, and self-soothing practices.

I basically taught myself how not to experience anxiety. By learning to listen deeply to my body/mind, I created my own personal plan of how to “live well” with this condition; one that would come and go depending on my life circumstances. And it worked, as long as I took my own advice.

As I became more self-aware, anxiety became a profound pathway to inner peace. Today, I am actually grateful for the anxiety I experienced in the past—and still experience slightly on occasion. I am grateful because it offered me a spiritual wake-up call; an opportunity to look at how I was living my life and how to live differently with true peace at my core.

I have not spoken this publicly about the anxiety I experienced until now. There has always been an overarching cloud of shame or embarrassment about it. There is for many of us. I’d often say to myself. ‘You are a well-educated and capable woman. How could you fall victim to something like this?’

Well, I did. In fact, 18 million other people just like me have. In that knowing— there are so many of us who have struggled with anxiety—I take comfort. And I am ready to speak out about it more.

My first step in being more vocal and, hopefully, helpful to others has been to create a short audio Seminar.

I’ve titled it, “The 7 Spiritual Secrets for Transforming Anxiety,” and it contains what I know about how to “live well” with anxiety; how to reframe anxiety and allow it to bring us the spiritual awareness we need to live an empowered life rooted in mindfulness and self-compassion.

I invite you to learn more about it HERE or share news of it with a friend who might be struggling.

If we are to heal (and to help others heal), we simply must move beyond the shame and embarrassment associated with this “dis-order.”

Though, I must say, today, I don’t really think of anxiety as a disorder, but as an opportunity to re-order our lives.

Anxiety appears as a Spiritual Invitation bearing the message: “It is time to live in alignment with your spiritual truths—to live from the fullness of your being, moment by blessed moment—with love and peace evermore.”

And when we can accept this Invitation, anxiety can be our gateway to long-lasting serenity. I know this to be true. It has been so for me.

May it be so for you. May it be so for all of us.

May peace of mind be yours this day ...


Lisa (MM) said...

Wonderful of you to share your story Jan, so others can relate and benefit. And I love the idea that it is a spiritual invitation - I think this is true of all our struggles really, physical, emotional, or otherwise...I also have always been a 'sensitive' being, although it did not manifest so much as anxiety as a hyperactivity, and a taking on of other's emotion to the point where I could not find myself...Meditation saved me too:-) Namaste, friend XOXO - Lisa

Trisha Pearson said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I've always struggled with being very sensitive and often overwhelmed by life and I know so many others who experience this as well.

Janice Lynne Lundy said...

I appreciate your kind comments. Like you, I believe pretty much everything is a spiritual invitation, especially difficult with pesky mind states. Very nice to know that your sensitivity played out in your life as well, and in such an interesting way. Yes, meditation, mindfulness, self-compassion are lifesavers. xo

I am happy to share. We sensitive types should stick together. We could teach others so much...

Very good to monitor ourselves and our well-being so we are not overwhelmed as that can create so many health issues.

I hope today you are well and happy. Blessings!

Life Potentials Network said...

Jan, what I love about you is how honest and forthright you are when you share your deepest thoughts and feelings. And you always share with the intent of helping others along the trail. What a beacon of light you are, my friend. I send you warm hugs and a promise for a long chat this spring when we get home.

Midlife Fairy Godmother said...

Thank's so much for sharing. I too had anxiety, panic attacks, phobias (didn't drive until I was 30) and more that caused adrenal failure due to living in flight or fight mode. Learning what to do with my thaoughts, feelings, and physical reactions was the greatest gift I have ever given myself!! So what appreard to be a huge problem became a blessing in disguise!!! Dinah