Anxiety Sneakily Grabbed Me Last Week, and This is How I Responded

by | Apr 24, 2022 | Anxiety | 30 comments

The winds are blowing… again.

It’s dry and hot… too hot and dry for April. We need rain. We needed moisture desperately in December before the fires blew through South Boulder. My heart aches every day for my friends who lost their homes.

There was a fire up the road a few days ago, and the neighborhood just North of us received evacuation orders. We were next, so we started to pack our essentials. My heart was in my throat; prayers on my lips. We brought our cat inside just in case. Asher asked every ten minutes, “Are we going to have to evacuate?” “I don’t know,” I replied. The I don’t know doesn’t sit well with any of us. We hung in the abeyance of uncertainty, grasping at news updates, seeking footholds however we could until we received the “all clear” and we could exhale.

As I sit and write, my sons are at school, and one is on a field trip. I watched my anxious mind attach onto a catastrophic story a few minutes ago, as it likes to do when I’m feeling vulnerable. I caught the story, thought of all of you, thought about a common question I’m asked by parents, “How do I deal with parenting anxiety and the fear I have that something horrible is going to happen to one of my kids?”

My short answer: Worry is the the work of parenting. (And the work of loving anyone. For those of you struggling with relationship anxiety, this all applies.)

 

My longer answer: Learn to name the intrusive thoughts/images as protectors and soften into the vulnerability of loving that lives at the core.

I practice my own words, but in that moment when the horrible image arrived my first thought was, “This is too hard. This is too much to ask of humans. How can we love so deeply when the possibility of loss exists?”

I’ve written it a hundred times, but the longer I sit with others and my own psyche, the more clear it becomes: the anxious, intrusive thoughts are protectors against the pain of loss, change, aging, and the fear of death. The more we fear the pain, the stronger and more persistent the thoughts become and remain. The thoughts are a tenacious, thick cloak that drape around your mind, luring you away from the tenderness and messiness of the heart. The more we can soften into the heart, the quieter the thoughts become. It’s not that they stop arriving, it’s that we become more adept at seeing them as messengers and dropping more quickly into the heart-space. With hand on heart, we watch the thoughts dissolve.

But how to soften into pain when it rips at the contours of the heart? How to drop into the body when the body hasn’t been a safe place to inhabit?

Slowly. With others. With a safe, trusted therapist. With long-term friends. With a partner. Dipping in then coming back out. Pendulating, is the trauma-informed word. I love that word. It reminds me of those desk birds that dip into water then come back out. Or a hummingbird that tips its beak into a flower and then flies away. When the pain is big and searing, we must dip into it slowly, then fly back to our safe space, which might be a head space. That’s okay. Next time you can try to stay with the pain for a few seconds longer.

in the heightened vulnerability of these times, I’m feeling the pain of being human more acutely, and the worry of being a mother and hoping my children are okay in the world seems to rise more frequently to center-stage. Of course, even if the world wasn’t on fire, I would still be feeling the ache of love and loss. With two teenagers, they launch out daily in some way, and the imminent launch of college for Everest, our oldest, edges more closely each day.

Last week, Everest went on a school trip and I watched anxiety sneak up on me the morning he left. Here’s the text exchange with my husband at 5am (that’s when he had to drop Everest off at school) when I became slightly panicked that Everest had forgotten his ID and wouldn’t be able to board the plane:

Me: Everest has his ID and wallet yes?

Daev: He just jumped out and went.

Me: Did you ask him if he has his ID and wallet?

Daev: I’m still in the parking lot. I can text him.

Me: Go ask him love.

Daev: He’ll get mad.

Me: He can’t get on the plane without his ID and he doesn’t have a wallet anymore so I don’t know where he’s keeping that. And he needs a credit card and cash.

Daev: He has a new wallet.

Me: I’m really worried about this. Can you please ask him?

This went on for a while. I was in the grip of this anxiety. Then my wise husband, who was holding the grounded role this time, said:

Daev: We have to trust. He’s very on it.

At the word trust, I was jolted back to some ground. Trust is an antidote to anxiety. 

And then:

Daev: I see him. He’s got everything and happy.

Me: Phew. My anxiety had to attach onto something.”

***

But really it was my grief that had to attach onto something. Once I named the defense, I softened into the grief of letting him go, and cried.

I feel teary writing this now. Teary at how much I love these children, and what it takes to let them go. Teary at their successes and how happy Everest felt in that moment, anticipating a school trip with his peers. Teary with self-compassion for my anxious, mama-self, awake in the early light, eventually able to soften underneath the anxiety into my own grief around letting him go and then tapping into his joy and letting it be my own. Teary at the utter, incomprehensible vulnerability of being a human who loves other humans.

How is anxiety showing up for you lately, and when you can soften the stories and connect to the pain underneath, what do you notice?

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30 Comments

  1. Boy, I can really relate! And it doesn’t seem to matter how old they are. Especially if they’re living with you.

    Reply
    • This is: so helpful and thank you for the advice to name the thought, and navigate via pendultating. When it comes to worrying about my teenage children, anxiety can be all consuming so it’s helpful to learn how to navigate. A good friend said we are only as happy as our least happy child. It’s so true…

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    • The prospect of a new job, that would be a good way to stretch myself and very financially beneficial. The guilt/second guessing of leaving a job I love and feel so committed to. Struggling with this immensely.

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    • This could not be more fitting for my experience last week also, thank you as always for sharing, your wise words always come at the best time.

      As I was in the throes of anxiety last week about my daughters health – she was having high fevers/ immense ear pain and acting a way I had never seen. I thought of your teachings and I wrote this poem

      The fear it engulfs me beyond what I can handle

      But with that I know they are just words of a scandal

      I am brave I am grounded

      I could surely climb a mountain

      Her innocence and sweetness pierces my soul

      With my need to preserve everything that makes her whole

      The anguish that floods me like harsh running waters

      And the closing in on my hearts rounded boarders

      It is so much to bear that the skin on my bones trembles

      For life and it’s delicacy causes my rambles

      The grip in my hands causing great tension

      Brings an awareness of places I live with such apprehension

      The apprehension to love with all of heart

      In fear that the center will be shot with a dart

      Reply
      • Beautiful poem, Stevie, and I love that you found a way to meet the fear and transmute it along the channels of poetry. Sending big hugs.

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    • Sheryl, thank you so much for this vulnerability you’ve shared with us here. Thank you for being the kind of teacher who lives as one of us and not set apart from us. Like Jesus and all the greatest teachers. Thank you for your heart and tears that help me to feel normalized and seen in the midst of all the pain of this life. You continue to encourage and hearten and inspire me every day that I stick with the work you’ve laid out for all of us sweet, tender, gentle, giant-hearted sensitives to do. Bless you.

      I talked with you in I think a February or early March call about fears around my partner not explicitly believing in “God”. You encouraged me to go slowly and watch everything that arose and allow my wounded heart to heal after an extremely difficult winter of dealing with family trauma. Because I listened and continued to do the work, my heart has opened wide, and I have SEEN GOD in ways that I never have before in this very man whom I almost abandoned because of my own fear. My heart/body/mind is being overwhelmingly healed and loved by the gift of the Divine in this man.

      Again, thank you, thank you, thank you, and bless you!!!!!

      It’s all about love. That’s all. 🌻

      ♥️ Laura

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      • Beautiful words, beautiful Laura! It is, indeed, all about love. ❤️💕🥰

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  2. That was beautiful Shery. I have a 18 month old baby girl. I am often overwhelmed at the amount of time and energy it takes to be her mother. At the same time, reading your email made me feel the grief of one day having to let her go… I long to teach her to the best of my ability how to be confident, strong, autonomous (I have struggled so much with anxiety and fear and low self esteem). I’m hoping that I also can hold both the grief of one day letting her go, and the joy of seeing her freedom and joy and knowing partly I helped her get there.

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    • The early years are SO time-consuming and exhausting, Kristina. Parenting does get easier in those aspects. And I have every confidence that you will be able to let go and celebrate simultaneously :). 💕

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  3. Oh Sheryl, you always know just what to say! Trying not to cry as I lie here nursing my baby to sleep. I am new to motherhood (5 months in) and took your motherhood is sacred class but nothing ever could have prepared me! I too, had a home birth, and I too was absolutely horrified by the pain that nearly swallowed me whole. Now my little boy is my whole heart living outside my body and all your posts about your sons ring so true. The fear that something might happen to him grips me hard sometimes and I know it will never end, just change. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Reply
    • Let the tears come, Kailey! They’re part of how we make it through motherhood with our sanity in tact.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this Sheryl. I wonder whether the techniques you did there / tips you share here are applicable for anxiety that is not about our relationship with other people. For instance my anxiety is fear that I would fail, I would not get a job ever and ever, and I would eventually die because I don’t have livelihoods to survive. So it’s not about other people…

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    • Firstly Hey Sheryl and thank you for this post. I’m not a Mother yet but do hope to be in the future and I can already anticipate the fears I may feel (to the point where I just thought “shall I just not bother to try to have children?”) which is the classic part of me who thinks running away will protect me from suffering!

      To Prili,
      This particular theme Sheryl talks about is just where anxiety has hung it’s hat this time and self-trust and resting in the place of grief is applicable to all types of anxiety.
      The same practices remain no matter what the theme is that’s showing up for you right now.
      The fear of loss and ultimately death is telling you that you won’t survive without work – journalling with a higher part of you and speaking to this part of you which fears loss (we all fear death through the fear of loss even if the surface level thought is not the same!) and bringing compassion to the part that is scared will help you process this fear with gentleness. This part just needs some love and softness and to know that you will be ok no matter what <3
      You always know when you are dealing with a particularly sticky anxious thought when it comes with terms like “I will never…” and fearing the worst possible outcome.
      Sending you lots of love and hope that you can get under what that thought is protecting you from feeling xxx

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      • Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with Prill, ForeverHopeful. This is the kind of dialogue I cherish on this blog. ❤️🙏🏽

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    • Thank you Sheryl for sharing this beautiful moment underscoring beautifully the “incomprehensible vulnerability of being a human who loves other humans.” Your words here are a balm, a warm hand hold, and a soothing song for taking the next loving and courageous steps. Todah, ani ohevet otach. 💛🌸

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      • Thank you, dear Patricia. I’d love to know the translation of the Hebrew you shared 🙏🏽.

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  5. Thank you Sheryl! This is so timely and relatable. I truly love my kids so much it hurts. At the same time, between my career and parenting, I’m exhausted (they are 5 and 2) and often feel guilty I’m not enjoying motherhood “more” or all the time… hello perfectionist. I also become paralyzed at the thought of loss (as I did when I was young and worried about something g happening to my parents). Sometimes it feels like I’m blocking connection to my kids and my husband because of that fear of loss. I hope I can continue to name and feel the emotions around this so I can move through the fear.

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    • Everything you’re sharing is so common, Nicole. And yes the more we name the defenses the more we can open our hearts and be more present for the experience of loving.

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  6. My first born daughter just committed to college and will be leaving this summer. Your post was super timely and so true. I find myself weeping some days from all of the feelings that are just below the surface. When they come up, I let them. I tell myself I must have done something right for her to be able to go away in the first place 🙂

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  7. Thank you for this post, Sheryl. My worries lately center a lot around climate change and war and how defenseless I feel when it comes to protecting my 12 month old son…I work on environmental issues and as an HSP, I’ve had to protect myself a lot lately from the news. Some days I’d find myself down a worry spiral and I easily get wrapped up in intrusive worry, sick to my stomach at the thought of what the world will look like for my son in 20 years. Sometimes I don’t know how to control the worry. Looking forward to diving into your Grace through Uncertainty course in June.

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    • I loved that course and found a lot of solace in the practices.

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    • I look forward to seeing you on the course, Sarah, and you’re far from alone with these worries. As dire as it seems, I truly feel that we’re going to turn this situation around, but the deeper work is around learning to tolerate uncertainty and find peace with what is true and present today.

      Reply
  8. Oh, yes, worried love… So beautiful when I recognise it as that heart. Yes, I soften. Yes, I cry.

    Our 35 yo daughter left last Sunday after visiting with us in Australia for 4 months. She and her brother live in Hungary since 2012. I miss them so much. They both want to move back to Australia within a year or two, and I worry.

    What if they won’t like it back in Australia? What if they won’t be able to find friends just like us? What if they’ll be lonely? What if they won’t’ be able to afford a home? They have these things in Hungary, but they miss us (and don’t like the politics and wars close by)… Ultimately, what if our being here will not be enough? Will they be disappointed (with us)?

    And now, as I typed this last one, I have tears confirming: I’m hearing the origin of my worries… I felt that I was not enough to keep my father close when I was a child. Even though he wanted me so much when mom got pregnant too young, after 10 years he got disappointed with family life and left me, left us.

    I know. It was hard. And I clearly feel the truth of his fears, his anxiety, and the untruth of me not being enough.

    My children will find their way through life. I’d love it if they were closer. And I know inside that I am enough.

    Thank you, dear Sheryl, for your deep love.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad that writing this out helped you connect to your tears and your self-compassionate wisdom. Sending you big hugs, dear Ildiko.

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  9. Hi Sheryl,
    I very recently signed up for your RA course. I have been battling RA for a few months now and at times it calms down while other days it hits HARD. I am only on lesson 2 from your course so I am just slowly starting to learn what this all means, etc. I think I have also read all your blogs and can relate to all of them as it is what I am going through. I have a question though. On days where I feel 10000% confident in my relationship, I realize that the following day (or sometimes even moments/hours) a new thought pops in and my whole body just goes in panic mode then more thoughts come in (I knew it, I knew this isnt RA, why else will I have this new thought etc). At times I can tell myself this is just fear trying to stop me from moving on and enjoying myself, other times I am in full panic mode that its trying to tell me something else. I also notice that when I am not anxious (and the thoughts arent as strong/bothering me much) I freak out a bit like is this what it feels like to not be anxious? Which makes me miss my anxiety which is kind of sickening. I guess I need to know if this is normal?

    Any advice is so so so appreciated 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi SariVZ,

      What you said is so relatable to me – as soon as you have a moment of insight or relief or understanding, your brain throws some new bit of “evidence” that pulls you right back into the vortex or rumination and panic. It does everything it can to convince you that the thoughts are actually real and literal and you are doomed. I know it is so so hard to not hook onto that and fall down the rabbit hole. The feelings are so strong and its so scary. I have heard (and read) Sheryl say that this is something that will often happen, as the ego (the part of you feeding you these images and intrusive thoughts) feels threatened as soon as you call it out and will double down to try to re-gain the upper hand.

      This is still something I’m working on so I understand how difficult it is. But I think the practice is to expect that your mind will do this and continue engaging the loving inner parent when it does – notice the thoughts, label them, breathe through the feeling and show yourself compassion. And when you can, keep trying to come back to the feelings underneath it all.

      Also, it is super common to worry about feeling “too good” or not feeling anxious, like something is missing.

      Sending you so virtual hugs and compassion! <3

      Reply
      • Hi Julia,
        Thank you so much for your kind response. It is exactly what I think as well but the ego does try to make me believe that this is the ‘real me’. It is truly horrible. I hope one day we can all overcome this so we can enjoy our lives better. It is worse when anxiety isn’t present yet you still don’t feel like your true self cause it makes you doubt it more even after putting the daily work in. Thankful for your understanding! it means so so so much.

        Reply
        • Such a beautiful, generous, and wise, response, Julia. Thank you.

          Reply

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