On Anxiety

A conversation between Catrin and Michaela

The beach (photo by Catrin)

C: Hi Michaela, are you there?

M: Hi Catrin. It is lovely to meet you. How are you ?

C:  I am fine, have just been out for a long walk on the beach in the sunshine! Lovely! Did you see my picture of the garden corner?

M: Oh, that sounds wonderful. I did not realise you live by the sea.

C: Ok! So, how will we do this?

M: Let us first agree on the subject. Maybe you have a question or a more general subject – and then just let it flow…

C: I´ll have to think for a while….funny I do not know if I have a question….everything feels just fine at the moment…..but I am quite curious about that “type lurking around in my basement”.

M: Ahhh…the monsters. Yes I know…they can certainly be very “entertaining”. It is interesting, because in my case, I have always been a quite intrepid person – not easily to be scared. And then, when this process started and I would go deeper, I was very surprised about all those thick layers of fear that I encountered. Fear that did not even feel like fear, but manifested in symptoms like a tightness in my throat or headaches. Is this what you mean ?

C: My fear, or anxiety, ever since I got my first anxiety attack at the hospital in Bangkok 1987  felt like real anxiety, in the middle of solar plexus, but of course it is a tightness everywhere when it comes. For example,  the other day..it can be as simple as this…I called my son on the mobile..he ALWAYS answers immediately  and now he did not….even when I say to myself…”he does not hear the telephone”…something inside starts tingling…and a cold something feels on my back…I reason with myself and say..do not be stupid….after let´s say 10 min, he calls back and then I am fine again. When my daughters were out travelling after they graduated..they went to Asia, Australia, Bali…I even stopped texting them because I did not want to experience the possibility that they would not answer…I know it is crazy…but this is one of the anxiety patterns i have..

M: Sounds like panic attacks to me. Did you ever try and go into the feeling ?

C:  How exactly do you mean?…I have heard about that but I do not exactly understand what it means…at the moment when it happens I am so busy being worried…this is not real anxiety attacks…that was what I had before when I did not know what the anxiety was…when I panicked because I was so scared of the panic itself. That is not the case since many years.

M: The way a panic attack works ( and forgive me if I am telling you something you may already know) – there may be a traumatic situation ( like the one you described in Bangkok) and the mind registers it as a “dangerous situation”. So it has learned that a certain situation is associated with danger and it wants to avoid it in future. The thing is, after a while this conditioning does not only get triggered by a comparable situation (like being in a hospital) but gets extended to other situations that are somehow related, or linked, with the original fear. So if your “original” fear was to lose a child in the hospital ( I think you said it was a difficult birth and then the child was sick) – this is a thought that is triggering the panic reaction. A panic reaction is a stress reaction – the whole system gets activated to either flee or fight. This may be the right thing to do in a situation of real danger, but hardly, when your son is not answering the telephone. I am sure you know that. I have seen often that old anxiety situations are coming up when people get more present. The error however is to believe we can solve it in our mind – by telling ourselves this is not really true. What has to happen is that we dissolve the reaction of the body – this is called letting go.
Do you follow ?

C: It is interesting, even if I know all this it is special to see it written like this. Two things; first of all I think that my first trauma was when I “lost” my father when my parents got divorced and he moved far away from where I lived (we have stayed a great contact now and have always had but that is not the point) as a child I experienced a big loss. Wait..I just have to read what I have written….and then for many years I think I suppressed everything, unconsciously of course, and then when this trauma happened in Thailand I think everything that had been hidden for all those years came up to the surface for the first time…..Th other thing was after my mother suddenly died twelve years ago and I was crying one time when I was alone at home. I do not cry very easily…I started crying and really let my self go and cried for a long, long time, half on hour or so…suddenly I did not cry for my mother any more…I was crying for my father…it was as if I was transferred back to when I was a little girl…it was amazing…and I called my father, still crying and told him what I had experienced….amazing…. I have thought a lot about that later…is that what you might mean by letting go or go into the feeling?

M: What you have experienced was a spontaneous “letting go” – something traumatic happens and somehow we are losing all these layers of resistance, which the ego has built in his defense. We are able to see and feel the “original” trauma and accept that it is there and accept the feelings and emotions associated with it. This can be very healing. However, there are many layers to the ego and it looks like in your specific situation there is still a “hang-up” that has not been resolved.

The way to do this is as follows: When you feel the panic attack creeping up on you, take a deep breath and go right into that feeling. Be with it will all your being, your presence, your heart – as much as you can. Do not try to suppress it – it may feel very daunting, but an anxiety attack is nothing but energy and catecholamin, they cannot harm you. Stay with it, no matter what – and be present. After a while the feeling will change and maybe you will reach a deeper level of emotions or even more thoughts or memory coming up. The physical equivalent of “letting go” is relaxation, dilation – opening up. How does that sound to you ?

C: That sounds interesting but I know it is difficult since my whole being/mind/body is so concentrated on the fact that something might have happened or that they may have a serious sickness. (A girl died suddenly in my sons school last year from that type of bacteria the comes very seldom and i impossible to detect if you do not go to the doctor immediately and take a streptococcus test). You know all these things that happen; sharks in Sydney where my daughter lives, avalanches in the Alps when they go there skiing…it is so stupid of me, I know that but I can not control it…oh, I drifted away from the subject…I am so concentrated on that fact that (and I am not really focused on that there is a panic attack, that is the minor part of it) that I can not relax until I know that everything is ok. I usually do not tell them that I have been worrying but I think they feel it anyhow… But thanks, I will really try this the next time it happens. I was a only a little bit worried a couple of days ago regarding the fact that he did not answer the phone…. that was only a minor incident..I can not even call it that…Anyhow it was really interesting that immediately after he called back I realized for the first time that I had been “unconscious” and that I was able to see that…even if the realisation came afterwards…that is always a little progress :). Sorry for writing strange sentences but I have to follow my thoughts/emotions or whatever I can call it 🙂

M: Don’t worry – I can see a lot now. First of all – can you feel the nervousness/anxiety right now? You may just turn your attention there for the time being, while you are following my writing…just feel it. Secondly, you said it right up there: You say you “cannot control it” …well, that is the first thing to accept – you cannot control these bouts of anxiety and emotions. When they come, they are here. That’s it. You cannot control it….control means more resistance – so you put resistance to resistance 🙂 does not really work that way.  So I suggest this is the first thing to do – be aware of your anxiety, also the potential source of anxiety ( all sorts of dangerous stuff happens in the world) and accept that you are worried about your kids. That is normal, but it does not necessarily lead to anxiety attacks. So you have to ask yourself: “ Is it true” – is it true or even likely that something bad has happened, if one of your children does not answer the telephone. If you ask yourself this question, you will see that you cannot KNOW that, but that this concern is a projection into the future. So pull yourself back into the Now. And then go into the reaction. It is nothing but your body reacting to the thought: “ I am worried about losing my children”.

You are right, this may be based on the original trauma of loss, but you are already aware of it. What you also can do is to find that soft spot in you, that has been sad and lonely for all those years. Be with it. Hold it gently and after a while you will see there is strength behind that feeling of lack. Do you understand ?

C: Yes, thank you so much, this is really a fantastic gift you are giving me, letting me tell you all of this. It is interesting to see (and I have seen it before) even though it is difficult. I am a person that thinks a lot, I realise that and it is not very good for me. (By the way..I do not feel anxious at all right now :))…let´s see what I wrote and what you wrote….I can also see know that what I wrote earlier is interesting…”I am so focused on the fact that something might have happened so I do not see the panic”. I am really, REALLY, lost in my thoughts even if I in the thoughts also is trying to calm myself down… Thanks, I will really dive into the feeling next time and maybe the thoughts won´t get the same space then. Wait, I have to read your last answer again.. Yes, asking myself is not such a  good idea I think since that only will create more thinking, instead I will try to do the other thing you suggested..”find that soft spot that has been sad and lonely in me…be with it…hold it gently… That were such sweet words….thank you so much! Will I be able to keep this document after we finish so I can read this the next time I am worried?

If you would you like to put this in the anxiety corner it is fine/ok with me.

M: Thank you Catrin. Yes, if you allow me, it could be the first piece in the anxiety corner. I think this is a great initiative because so many people are suffering from anxiety – and the good news is, you can really handle it relatively easily. So I appreciate it. I suggest, we do slight edits on our part – typo, and you just remove what you think is too private. Other than that, I really would love to continue this conversation. As you say, the good thing is, it is in a written format and one always can go back to read and check what has been said and what it means…

So yes, let us do it like that and let us get back together whenever you are ready.

The beach (photo by Catrin)

About Michaela

I am a wanderer and a wonderer, like you are. I love our journey and to walk in the company of friends – to learn, experience, share, laugh, cry and above all I simply love this marvelous, magical, mysterious life. I have no plan (cannot believe I am saying this) and my only intention is to be truthful to myself and others.
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5 Responses to On Anxiety

  1. Angelika says:

    Thank you for sharing this!

    I should like to point out – especially in order to avoid misunderstandings –

    that the manner in which the term “soft spot” is used here varies in the meaning,

    when I use it writing about Welwood´s teaching or quoting him.

  2. Michaela says:

    Darn..I meant to write: ” raw spot”.

  3. Johanna says:

    Thank you Catrin, for sharing about anxiety. I have plenty of it and it’s often set off by something with my youngest daughter… There’s a big “raw spot” and I really appreciate your suggestion, Michaela, of going there. When I do that, I find… compassion for myself. And an easing in the level of anxiety or pain.

  4. Angelika says:

    Having read the conversation, I realized that my father suffered from this anxiety – issue.
    I have found it in me also, as in imprint.

    The communiction between parents and children goes much beyond the realm of exchanging words.

    The best I can do for my children is to allow it to be healed within me.

    As changes happen within me I can see my children change.

    • Catrin says:

      Thanks Angelica and Johanna for your comments. It is not that a big problem in my life but it pops up now and then and it is really “warming” to hear other people talk about their anxiety. Strange in a way..but it makes you feel less alone with the problem. ❤

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