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Unlearning Anxiety, pt. 2: How it Started
Marlene is a perfect example of a person who thought she had an anxious personality. Before learning the steps above, she understood why she had it, but that didn’t change anything. (It usually doesn’t.) Her father abandoned the family when she was young and then her mother had to work, leaving her in charge of younger siblings. She was responsible, but that was an awfully heavy burden to place on a child. It was scary. Little kids do not have the emotional resources to tell themselves “This too shall pass” the way adults do when something bad happens for the first time in adulthood. Hers was a normal reaction to a bad situation given that she was only a child when all this started.
So the world became a scary place and Marlene became anxious at many things. Any time the stability of her life was threatened, she would overeat; she would feel her blood pressure go up; she often got queasy or lightheaded. She frequently thought she was headed for a panic attack and had so many of them that she started to label herself as having a Panic Disorder. Along with this, she would think: “Oh, no, I see no end in sight,” or “I don’t have a clue how to get out of this!” or “Why did this have to happen to me?”
Marlene tried the approach described in pt. 1, the last post, with a great deal of irritation. That’s common. “Why,” she complained, “Do I have to be the one to work on myself, when, as you point out, it was not my fault that I was treated badly and became an anxious person?” She came to realize that, just like the baby born blind, or the beaten and abused child, she is stuck with a problem and she now has two choices, either go on being miserable or fix it. She saw that people born into a problem can turn that lemon into lemonade. Helen Keller stands out as a fine example. Born deaf and blind to a family that was clueless in how to reach her, with the help of her teacher, Annie Sullivan, she not only overcame the obstacles—while still remaining impaired—but became a fabulous example of a winner, a standout human being.
Not only did Helen Keller overcome every obstacle to success in life to become a role model, but she did it with a great attitude. She didn’t grump over it; she turned it into lemonade by becoming the type of person who, in a calm way, radiating inner peace, became an inspiration to others. The person who goes further than merely overcoming one of these obstacles, but turns that problem to their advantage, has taken a leap into the spiritual domain. This is a part of the healing; it is giving meaning to the whole experience.
“Besides,” her friend asked pragmatically, “doesn’t your husband, Mel, have a problem with your anxious behavior?” “Oh boy, does he,” said Marlene, biting her nail. “Every time I start to hyperventilate, it makes him nervous.”
Of course it does. The nature of anxious behavior is that it is not constant, and when you don’t know when the other shoe is going to drop, it creates a state that physiologists call hyperarousal. However, Mel, having not grown up in the unfortunate environment plaguing Marlene, had some self-protective instincts and told her in no uncertain terms that he can’t—and won’t—stand for this too much longer.
So Marlene had three good motivations to go ahead with my plan: First, it would help her feel better emotionally and physically to be rid of this anxiety once and for all. Second, there might be a secondary benefit to going even further than only overcoming it, but in some way, turning her history and experience into an asset. And, of course, third, she would get to keep Mel, whom she loved.
Marlene started the steps outlined in the first post. She did not realize how quickly she would be called on to put them into practice. Stay tuned for the next post.