I pull the bedcovers over my head and try to ignore the sound of my kids and husband getting ready for the school day.
I don’t want to get out of bed today, or yesterday, or tomorrow. I want to care, but I just can’t summon enough energy to care about anything.
My bedside clock ticks over to 7.45am and the guilt I feel at not being up and with my kids finally outweighs the darkness enveloping my day. I take a deep breath and push myself out of bed.
What will happen today? Which son will worry me most? Will they have a new cold? Please Lord no, let them be healthy, otherwise I’ll spend the next 3 days worrying that it’ll get worse, a fever, a secondary infection, vomiting… or what happens if they have a rash today? How will I know if it’s really serious? Should I check and ask them if they’ve got a sore neck too?
Or will it be my body that starts the anxious spiral down… a new lump or pain somewhere on my body… what is it? why is it there? Am I sick? Is it terminal? Who would look after the kids if I died and my husband was away for work?
Worry has been my constant companion for life. Always there to spoil a good moment. Most of the time I can keep it under control. I know that it flares up for major issues, but then it goes back to just a simmer in the background when life is going okay.
But, for some reason, in the last few years the worry has got worse. I can’t turn it down now. It’s like a hot soup that’s constantly boiling and spilling over onto the element. I can’t find the control to turn it down to a manageable simmer. The boiling soup is spilling and spattering everywhere, burning me and hurting me constantly, wearing me down. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. I know I have a big problem. But I don’t care enough to do something about it.
How do you help yourself, when the problem is – you can’t be bothered helping yourself?
Turns out, you just need to look into your child’s face and you’ll find the motivation. As I watched my son descending into the same anxious spirals and mental patterns as me, I wanted nothing more than to fix him and I knew that meant I had to fix me.
For me that meant getting professional help, because despite my best efforts – I was making no progress.
Medication, counseling, meditation, exercise, rest, sleep, having fun – I needed a completely fresh start to rebuild my life from the inside out. And the good news is – it’s working!
But boy, did I learn a thing or two along the way, about how out of control my thoughts can be.
I’ve learnt all about “thought stopping”. When a dark thought starts – I now bang the door shut on it within milliseconds.
“STOP! Let it go….” (my mantra for those dark, pointless thoughts)
I’ve meditated so unsuccessfully, but I come back another day and try again. Even a minute or two of focused meditation is progress.
And meditation has shown me something really important – how to be conscious and aware of my thoughts.
And the thing I realised the more I meditated was, my brain has a habit of spending way too much time looking internally. Like, there are ‘real’ problems out in the world, and here I am worrying about which chronic disease I might be diagnosed with this week.
I withdraw from other people in order to focus on my internal worries, when in fact what makes me feel better is to get out and socialise, to focus on others and what they’re doing, to shift my constant internal focus into an external focus on others. To help me shift my viewpoint from a limited, warped, anxious internal view to a wider, more diverse, relaxed, external view of the world.
And then as I looked in the mirror one day, a more important lesson dawned on me.
I could stand looking at that reflection in the mirror, worrying about the rolls and the wrinkles. Turning to the side to critique how thick my middle section is getting as I hit middle age. Checking out how many rolls are gathered under my bra strap.
Or I could make a decision to shift my focus away from my body. To not focus on how my body looks. To instead shift my focus to things outside me.
Researchers have shown that spending time with people who are not preoccupied with their bodies can improve our own eating habits and body image.
In other words, if we would just focus less on our body image, we could all help shift how good we feel about ourselves.
I see questions all the time about how to love your body when you’re not happy with how big you are. Or how to love parts of your body and not focus on your weight. And they seem like valid questions. But maybe they aren’t.
How often do you sit and ponder the weight and size of your friends? Unless you’re particularly shallow, I’m guessing you don’t often think about your friend’s jean size, right?
Instead you value your friend for a whole lot of other qualities, that have absolutely nothing to do with how much she weighs, or dissecting her body part, by body part to check that she’s acceptable.
And yet, we do exactly that to ourselves every day. And wonder why we don’t feel good afterwards.
So maybe we’re asking ourselves the wrong question – instead of asking ourselves:
“How long will it take for me to learn to love or accept the larger body I find myself in?”
Maybe a better question is:
“How can I take the focus off of my body and start getting on with enjoying my life?”
The day you stop focusing on your body, and instead focus on your life, is the day you’ll start feeling happier inside and out.
And for that revelation, I thank my anxiety.