The dreaded setbacks. When you work really hard at something and feel like you went one step forward and two steps back. Sometimes you feel like you are about to summit the mountain, only to slip and fall all the way back down. You look up wondering, "What the heck just happened?" This summer I experienced a significant setback in terms of my anxiety. It has been 12 years since I have experienced a debilitating panic attack, so I thought those were a thing of the past.
I was in my own car following behind my husband in his car on a four-lane freeway into Seattle. We were heading to Canoe Journey as my husband was going to paddle with the Suquamish canoe for two days. He drives really fast and I was having a hard time keeping up. I started to feel the pang of anxiety inside so I called to tell him I was moving into the far right lane to slow down and focus on my breathing. I started to think of an exit strategy in case my panic spiraled out of control but I didn't see any exits, or worse yet, a shoulder to pull over. Within ten seconds, my anxiety transitioned into a full-blown panic attack. Thankfully a shoulder opened up and I pulled my car over. I got out and sat on the dirty cement behind my car as vehicles raced by me. Staying in my car would have been much safer but in that moment I wanted to feel grounded and being near the earth seemed like the next best thing. My hands started to go numb and curled back into a locked position where I couldn't use them to call my husband. I realized I was having a serious panic attack so I put my head between my legs and focused on slowing my breathing down. A strange man appeared out of nowhere and asked if I was okay. By then my panic attack was coming down so I was able to talk, yet tears were still streaming down my face. I thanked him for stopping and he disappeared. I never saw his car, it was as though he appeared out of nowhere. Makes you wonder. My husband by this point was making his way back to find me. As he pulled over I heard the sirens of a fire truck thinking "oh no...someone called 911." I'm sure my poor pathetic self, sitting on the side of the freeway was most alarming to passing drivers, so thank you to the person who called. I was calm at this point and kindly thanked them and said I didn't need any medical assistance. At this point I was in shock, embarrassed and didn't have a lot of words for my husband who was equally confused.
We ended up agreeing that I needed to go home and rest so we took the Seattle ferry back home. I spent the next day in my meditation room crying most of the day. How did this happen? Why did this happen? I was doing so well. What does this mean for the future? I felt ashamed and utterly defeated. My husband had never seen me like this so he, as well, didn't know what to say or do. I couldn't drive for two days, too worried it would happen again. Driving to my job or parents house became a daily struggle which was only 30 minutes away. I constantly worried "it" would strike again. Slowly, my confidence with driving came back but I avoided any major interstates or long drives. The thought of being paralyzed on the side of the road alone was too much. By October I knew I needed to keep pushing so I scheduled a personal event in Portland, Oregon, knowing I would have to drive 3 hours alone on the freeway. When the time came the first hour was rough but I managed to sit with all the uncomfortable sensations. By hour 2 I was able to calmly drive the rest of the way, rain and all!
Since then, I have done some major soul searching into the "why" of that panic attack in July. Even though they seem to come out of nowhere, they really don't. Anxiety is always precipitated by something conscious or unconscious within the body. So I had to ask myself, what is going on in my inner and outer world? There was a lot! From too much traveling, saying yes to too many things, planning a wedding, starting a business and the overall transition of moving back home, you could say my life was not balanced and I was overwhelmed with change. Moving home unearthed a lot of emotional turmoil and pain I wasn't prepared to handle. In addition, there were too many things I wanted to do and just not enough time. That seems to be a theme in my life. I just want to do EVERYTHING! Because I was busy, I wasn't taking the time to check-in with myself, journal or really process the amount of stress going on. I just kept going and going and guess what happens...something had to give.
What is the takeaway message from setbacks or when you feel like the balance in your life is skewed? We need to realize that our healing journey is that, a journey. When setbacks arise, we have to allow ourselves to feel and process the emotions and keep moving forward, even if that involves the tiniest of baby steps. Sometimes we may feel healed in a certain area only to have an old wound triggered back into reality. I do believe our bodies continually remind us and bring forth the things we have yet harmonized and made peace with. What emotional, spiritual, mental or physical baggage can you work on? Creating more balance in your life can be challenging, it's not like we can add more time in the day. Prioritize what is most important, learn to say no and make sure you have a healthy outlet for expressing feelings and stress. If you have experienced any type of setback, please be patient and kind with yourself, you're not perfect and not supposed to be. Keep pushing yourself at a healthy pace and you will start to feel more confident as you step outside your comfort zones. The place beyond those zones are worth the fight, they really are, I promise! We can work on them together :)