There are a lot of questions that almost every client I have asks. Among them are: “Does it really have to be this hard?” and variations on that theme: “Why aren’t my other friends and co-workers going through this?” Anxiety and doubt ache through the questions and longing presses through every word: they’re wishing that they could glide through their transition like the people they see around them. I usually respond with something like, “Actually, you’re one of the lucky ones.” I’m sure that initially they think I’m crazy, but after a few sessions they usually agree.
Anxiety is always a calling for consciousness. When we’re in an anxious state, it’s because we’re ready for the next stage of growth. As transitions are inherently opportunities to grow, it makes sense that anxiety would precede the painful, yet important, growth process. Anxiety is so uncomfortable and often debilitating that we have few choices for how to respond: we can manage it through medication, we can try to ignore it, and/or we can address it directly and inquire about what its message might be.
When I was twenty-one, I had my first panic attack. I was driving down the 405 freeway in Los Angeles with my then-boyfriend, and all of a sudden I couldn’t breathe properly. The taillights became blurred, my heart started racing, and my chest contracted in pain. Certain that I was having a heart attack, I pulled over and we called 911. For those of you who have suffered through panic and anxiety, this description probably feels painfully familiar. After an exam at the ER, I was released with a clean bill of physical health and an anxiety “disorder” that would remain with me for the next seven years.
I spent several months wishing the anxiety away. Having lived a somewhat blessed life inside a glass castle, I couldn’t believe that I was suffering from panic and anxiety and had no idea how to manage it or where to turn. It took me years of journaling, dreamwork, spiritual work and therapy to unravel the mystery of what had happened that night. When I began the research for my Master’s thesis that ultimately culminated in the publication of The Conscious Bride, the pieces started to fall into place: I had been three months away from graduating from college and my psyche felt like I was falling into the great void of adulthood. On the practical level, I had no idea what I wanted to do or how I was going to support myself. On the inner level, the anxiety attack was my initiation into a spiritual awakening that would lead me into the darkest places of psyche, and ultimately back into the light. It was the beginning of my healing journey and the commencement of my life calling. I could say that the seeds for my work with transitions were planted that night.
There was no way I could know it at the time, but the anxiety was, in fact, the greatest blessing of my life. It shattered my glass castle and humbled me into understanding that I was a flawed person in need of repair. It inspired me to leap into adulthood and hobble my way through therapy so I could do the work and learn the tools that would not only help me heal, but would also help others heal. I can’t imagine who I would be if the anxiety hadn’t come banging on my doors with such insistence, but I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
The same is true for my clients. When they commit to doing their inner work, they’re transformed. Because the anxiety brought them to my virtual doorstep, they could take my hand and allow me to lead them across the terrain of their transition where they come face to face with their “demons”: the character of self-doubt, their inner and outer critic (that relentlessly judges themselves and others) their fears of intimacy, their unresolved grief, unshed tears, and their anger.
Friends and co-workers might glide through their transitions with ease, but life will undoubtably present them with plenty of opportunities to face themselves and grow. Life would just be too boring otherwise.