The dreams always recur this time of year: I’m with my grandparents or I’m grieving the loss of them, and I wake up with the weight of unshed and unarticulated grief sinking my bones. Without the spaciousness that used to characterize my mornings before I had children, I can’t drop into the dream. I’m up, I’m snuggling my little one, I’m washing the cat bowl and filling it with fresh food as I notice the snow or sun on our yard, I’m reading books to my kids, making breakfast. The sounds and movements of the day begin and the dream is lost in the ether of that other realm.
But it’s not lost at all. It lives beneath the surface, swimming in the current of psyche that has no words, the world of grief and heartache, loss and longing. It’s a slow, quiet world, but it does not disappear simply because I choose not to carve out time for it. It creates a pane of glass between me and my loved ones. It closes the petals of my heart. It sits, waiting like a child that needs attention. If I fail to notice, it will make itself known in other ways.
And this is how anxiety is born. I’m suddenly over-focused on the fact that Asher, our little one, has been tugging on his ear lately. We know that he has a build-up of wax, but my grief-laden-heart-turned-anxious mind now creates a story that he has a swollen lymph node and it’s the precursor of child leukemia. I have enough presence of mind to resist the dreaded Googling, but I leave for my yoga class with the anxious thought that something is terribly wrong. Before I walk out the door I whisper this to my husband, who looks at me like I’m crazy. We just had Asher’s well-visit check up and we know everything is fine. But my anxious mind doesn’t agree.
Once at yoga, I step onto my mat and breathe. I scan my body and become aware of the anxiety, aware of my closed heart, aware of the lack of clarity and joy that normally reside in my soul when the channels are unimpeded by unshed feelings. Is something awry with work? My marriage? My kids? Am I feeling the challenge of Asher’s frequent emotional outbursts? That must be it. No. Doesn’t fit; it came from my head. I keep breathing, keep moving, keep sweating.
And then I see her: my grandmother.
To read the rest of the article, please see my book The Wisdom of Anxiety: How worry and intrusive thoughts are gifts to help us heal.