Advice for the anxiety-ridden.
Most mornings lately, I wake up around 4am with my heart beating fast, sheets sweaty and tangled underneath me. I feel panicked, lost, lonely.
I write in my journal every day, more faithfully than I have in years. I see two different therapists, attend two different churches, and have started going to 12-step meetings. I go for a run nearly every day and listen to podcasts about spirituality and wisdom while my feet fall heavy on the pavement.
Still, that 4am wake-up call comes. What am I doing? Why aren’t things working out the way I wanted them to? What’s wrong with me? Where am I supposed to go from here? My thoughts spin out of control, draining my will to get out of bed and start the day.
Maybe if I added yoga back into my routine, I’d stop feeling so unmoored and afraid. But exactly how much self-care can I pack into my schedule and still keep up with my job, my kids, and the laundry?
People are always telling me to be kinder to myself, to pay attention to my gut, to listen to my heart, to believe that I’m valuable, that I’m enough, and that I deserve better than what I’ve been settling for. To that I say, easier said than done. The world is too loud; I can’t hear my heart. And even if I could, I don’t even think I’d be able to distinguish it from my fear, my anxiety, and my high-functioning depression.
I once heard a motivational speaker say that the one thing she’s always been sure of in life is who she is. I’m 41, and I have no idea who I am. How do people manage to tune out the noise of the world and hear their own hearts, anyway? How do they manage not to wake up in the wee hours of morning with their hearts pounding?
When you can’t hear your own heart, listen to advice from someone else’s
In general, I’m not a fan of advice – either taking it or giving it. I prefer to wrestle with things myself and learn them the hard way. It’s not going so well for me, though. So I’ve taken to writing poems and quotes down on little slips of paper and stashing them in my pockets, where I come across them at random times that always seem, somehow, be the exact right moments.
Here’s one I’ve been carrying around for a few years (and am still trying to absorb) –
“You can leave your marriage, you can quit your job, you can only go where people are going to praise you, you can manipulate your world until you’re blue in the face to try to make it always smooth, but the same old demons will always come up until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you. Then those same demons will appear as friendly, warmhearted companions on the path.” – Pema Chödrön, in The Wisdom of No Escape
At this point, it’s kind of ridiculous that I don’t even know those demons’ names. Maybe I need to try and make friends with them.
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
– Derek Walcott
For a while I had just that line, “give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart,” pinned up above my desk. Because it’s true, for those of us who tend to lose ourselves in our relationships – we betray ourselves for the sake of someone who will never really know us or care about us the same way we can do for ourselves. Is that what wakes me up before dawn?
Next week, I’m running away to the beach for a few days, to float in the ocean and gaze up at the sky and try to listen to my heart a little better. And then, just after I get back, I’m heading to the mountains to soak up a little nature – not my usual thing, being a dyed-in-the-wool city girl. But this poem, another one I first heard in that divorce workshop, has me itching to spend some time in the woods.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand Still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
– David Wagoner
Here’s to being lost, and found, and listening to our own hearts – and not waking up at 4a.m..
Images via tumblr.com and giphy.com.
Comment: How do you tune in to your own inner wisdom?
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