Here is my anxiety story:
Anxiety was recruited into my life when I was just five years old.
It was February 1977. My father, sister and I tumbled out of our wood-paneled station wagon, returning home from “Indian Princesses,” a YMCA craft and activity program. (Scroll to bottom to watch me tell this on video!)
I was as carefree as they come, giggling and poking my sister.
During that evening’s session we learned about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.
I asked, “Where are the presidents now, Daddy?”
There was snow on the ground, ice on the driveway, joy on our faces.
“They’re dead,” my father said.
“What’s dead?” I asked in a singsong voice. My smile hung there.
He winced. Uh-oh. Something is wrong.
My dad’s neck got long and his face drew pale. I read the panic in his eyes. He tilted his head and changed his voice to a strained whisper. Dead was definitely bad news.
“It means you’re not alive anymore.”
“It’s like sleeping without waking up. We all die.”
What? Mid-skip, I stopped in my tracks. My stomach dropped and my eyes opened wide as if for the first time. Alarms went off in my head. My smile evaporated, hope vanished and joy disappeared. Dead was bad. I ran away from this bad dead idea, I ran as fast as my little legs could, into my mother’s arms sobbing at the terror of “dead. “
“Bad” of this magnitude didn’t exist until this point. And now that bad existed, fear of bad was brought to life like Frankenstein’s monster with the lightning bolt. A context was created for fear to settle into. I could lose security. And if I could lose it, I was never really secure in the first place and could never be again.
Introductions were made — Jodi, meet anxiety. Anxiety, meet Jodi.
I’m not happy to meet you.
My world was now a place where “the worst” could happen. Tears filled my eyes and I heaved loud sobs in my mother’s arms as I grieved the happy girl I was before this harrowing revelation. She was lost for a while.
Over those two decades, anxiety came and went in my life. I feared the death or illness of a loved one. It was like I was virtually experiencing death, over and over, countless times. And when it came, I ran like that scared 5 year old with the monster of anxiety looming over my shoulder.
Actually, you can say that anxiety ran my life. I was no longer at the driver’s seat. I felt powerless. Fast-forward twenty years when I was experiencing a particularly long and horrible anxiety episode.
I was a social worker in an out-patient psychiatric center sitting in a clinical case meeting where we took turns sharing our hardest cases.
“He cries most of the day and can’t go to work,” says my colleague Beth. The familiar dread brews in my belly. “His wife can’t talk to him about anything. He’s having trouble making plans or decisions. He habitually picks the skin on his nose. He’s lost forty pounds and the medicine isn’t helping him.”
This is the third case presentation today and sweat tingles under my arms. I look at the other faces around the table, searching for something to keep me in the here and now before my anxious mind throws me into a confusion of rapid thoughts. It doesn’t help.
The Panic Builds
I’m worse, I think. My anxiety is worse than every person they are talking about. I’m supposed to be the person who helps others, but I’m helpless to stop what’s going on in my own mind.
I become hyperaware of the room — the tapping pen across the table, the smell of the coffee on the table, the back of my coworker’s head as he nods at the doctor’s advice — these are all beacons for my attention.
Then, suddenly the room blurs out of focus. Blinking, I look down at the table. Hold yourself together! Tears threaten. I’m falling apart. My heart rate increases and the walls of the room start to close in.
How am I going to handle life like this?
Unable to sit in that conference room another minute, I awkwardly rise from the table and walk out with my head down. Shame reddens my face as I’m certain all eyes are on my back, judging what a mess I am.
Then I’m out the door, making for the stairwell. When I get there, I begin running toward the exit. I’m running again. As if I could ever outrun anxiety.
I practically dove into my car and shoved the key into the ignition. Holding my hands at 10 and 2, I held my breath, turned the ignition and looked in my rear view mirror to pull out. What I saw stopped me in my tracks.
I saw myself. My neck was long and my face was pale.
It was that same haunted face of my father telling me about death for the first time when this whole rollercoaster started. I couldn’t live like this any longer because there was no way I could keep running with anxiety hanging over me, threatening my every move.
Sitting down, I took a deep breath and all of my attention was on that breath. My mind calmed for a moment. If I learned this thing called anxiety, maybe I could unlearn it?
The Turning Point
I decided that if Anxiety was going to try to take me down, I wasn’t going to just stand aside and let it. I was also determined that day to find out what I needed to stop anxiety, committing myself to practicing it with my heart and soul. That vow was the turning point for me.My Anxiety Story: How I went from cowering under the covers to happy and free. Click To Tweet
Doing just that over the next few years, I learned whatever I could and developed the three steps to cure myself of anxiety. I embodied this in my heart and mind- so much so that a few years later it didn’t even flare when the worst happened.
We got a call from my husband’s ex-wife, that my 14 year old step-son, Calin was in the hospital and just diagnosed with spinal meningitis.
My husband was quickly grabbing a few things to make the five hour drive to his bedside. Our six year old son, Leo, was standing with me in the hallway watching him gather a toothbrush, a sweatshirt, and bag in a few short minutes.
In his precious little boy voice Leo asked, “Mommy, is Calin going to die?”
Time stopped and I felt the significance of the moment. Ted heard this little voice and left me to answer. I relaxed my face and squatted down to him, not even feeling a remote urge to run.
“I don’t know, honey. Everyone dies. Whatever happens, we handle it.” with a smile and tons of confidence. I was okay, free from anxiety and able to help everyone else.
The Happy Ending
(Leo moved on to the next moment satisfied and carefree. Calin miraculously recovered. Ted’s okay, too.)
This new me feels amazing. I no longer run, I no longer support anxiety or pass it on. Instead I stop it, as well as block it and prevent it from ruining people’s lives. Now I teach people how to cure themselves from anxiety. Get started here: Biology of Fear Video.