A new free-solo climb; approaching anxiety without meds.

Monday, June 12, 2017

I thought to myself, "Whatever I do from this moment forward, HAS to be different than the way I've done things before."
Different than what everyone else seems to be doing.  Or THINKS I should do.
I believed this in my heart, but didn't know how I would pull it off.
Navigate the treacherous terrain of anxiety, panic and depression without some sort of assistance (therapy or drugs.)  

I was so physically exhausted and emotionally empty, NO suggestion or solution really seemed clear or right.
The soothing balm of medication tempted me like a desert mirage. . .promising my "old" self would reemerge quickly, offer hope of a future of permanent inner peace and groundedness.  And if I was REALLY disciplined, maybe even to never have to go in to this state again.

But I also knew deep down it couldn't do that. . .that medication wouldn't SAVE me or make my fears, struggles or doubts go away.  That it would just be a temporary solution to something that required MUCH more than altering my brain chemistry for a short time.
And maybe, just maybe, my "old" self wasn't the direction I was supposed to go?
That the whole point of this downslide was to learn to move FORWARD in to a NEW self?

Meds might be a nice break for my body, I thought, but would most likely lead me down a path of reliance, trying one drug, then another, then maybe even another, until I felt like a "normal" human again.
It was a road I stubbornly wasn't willing to travel.

What if I WAS willing, however, to trust and devote myself FULLY to the program I stumbled across seven years ago?  Maybe, just maybe, I could heal myself, WITHOUT drugs.

It felt a bit like heading in to labor "au natural," with the well-laid plan of NOT getting an epidural to numb the pains of childbirth and bring instant comfort, but knowing this wouldn't be the easy way.  It was going to be hard, hurt a lot and be completely exhausting.  It was ANOTHER way I had to try first.

I'd heard enough, read enough, listened enough to other fellow sufferers describe THEIR experiences with SSRI's to be totally convinced that it was not a path I was willing to try.
I entertained it briefly, but to be honest?  I was willing to die to how I felt than go down that road.  Stubborn, I told you.  Maybe a bit too proud.  

And I also wanted so badly to be able to trust myself again.  And really FEEL all the pain I was feeling (childbirth without the drugs,) and see where it took me.  Even if that meant death.

So how do you even begin to start to dissect and dismantle lifelong unhealthy habits?
Smooth out decades-long grooves of fear, doubt and insecurity?
Allow a physical body to heal from sensitized nerves and depleted adrenals?

Slowly.  VERY slowly and VERY patiently.
Like, with all the patience you can find.

From my vantage point at the time (picture someone lying at the bottom of a deep cave, with zero energy, motivation, confidence or even a rope to find their way out.)  That's what I felt and thought.
It felt totally hopeless.  

I was already surrendering to the fact that this is where I would probably die.  
As I had known no depth of suffering, exhaustion and emptiness like this, ever in my life.

(I kind of wish for your sake, this was the intro to some harrowing narrative of falling in to an ACTUAL hole while on a month-long North Face sponsored expedition, having had to cut off a limb or something to get out of a tight spot.  That's some thrilling and inspirational stuff right there. But my story is not that exciting.)  
It's pretty boring, actually.

Rather, a DIFFERENT version of what falling apart, suffering and then gaining new ground can actually feel like for a lot of people, with OR without the assistance of medication.  

Getting up and moving my body while feeling so hellish and run down, seemed counter-intuitive.  But "whatever I do from this moment forward, has to be different than the way I've done things before."  Turns out MOVING can be the best medicine to heal depression.

From my years of extensive research and experience, I knew the fatigue I was feeling was 95% emotional.  That it was only on the surface.  
But as many sufferers of depression know, it FEELS crippling, paralyzing, as if taking ONE STEP might drop you to the ground never to rise again.

It doesn't matter how "surface level" it actually is.
It is a sorrow, despair and tiredness that FEELS to go straight to the bone.

But for me, healing began with movement.  Surrendering to the way I felt, BUT also deciding to move.  NOT laying on the couch in a pool of self-pity, but taking small steps forward each day in to greater healing and deeper self-awareness of my body and attachment to my thoughts.

It's safe to say I wore a groove in the sidewalks, perpendicular to the cracks, within a two mile radius of my house.
I shuffled the tread off my running shoes completely.
This, after weeks and weeks, no. . .more like months and months of walking, walking, walking.  Just walking.  Nothing more.  That's all I could handle.

Thinking, praying and crying to whomever in the space outside my head would listen.
Months and months, no. . .more like years and years of anxiety, fear, panic and doubt had caught up with me once again, as these things tend to do when our only approach has been to fight or run.  

I learned you can only resist for so long before you have no choice but to put the gloves down and admit defeat.
At the very least, reassess your approach and ask yourself why it's not working and why this way of living is no longer sustainable.

But it's the best kind of defeat, because it doesn't actually have to kill you.  The only thing you have to do is give up yourself. 
Not give up ON yourself, but let go of the thoughts and ideas in your head of who you THINK you are, or are SUPPOSED to be.
It's not you.

And this new attitude adjustment gives your body the much-needed break it deserves.  

Nothing captures the effects of a fear-filled or fast-paced life more than the human body; our constant tension, stress, anger, rage, will ALWAYS lend itself to some form of illness, physical pain and exhaustion. . .I DO believe our bodies are ALWAYS telling the truth of our emotional state of the moment, 
but we're usually too proud, scared or in denial to tune in and listen.  So we keep pushing.

A life of running, chasing, proving, performing and perfectionism ISN'T sustainable and it put me in to the biggest doozy of burnout I'd ever experienced.

Our bodies are beautifully and naturally made with an ancient wisdom that repairs and heals itself, but not if we keep blocking our own way and fighting the natural flowing current under our everyday lives.

I have a different relationship now and a renewed perspective on anxiety and depression gained from my own unraveling.
It needs to be ALLOWED and embraced in its entirety (as hard as that is,) not only to get back in a more natural rhythm of life, but to obtain the priceless perspective of self-compassion, awareness, presence and above all else, ACCEPTANCE of things as they are, WITHOUT trying to change any of it.

This approach, without meds, DOES feel like trying to free-solo climb El Capitan in Yosemite.  (Done recently by Alex Honnold.  I'm kind of in to climbing stories at the moment.)

This is how insurmountable this feat would (and did) feel to a non-experienced nervous sufferer; to just ALLOW anxiety and depression be as it is without trying to medicate it.  It did often times feel like scaling a vertical wall of 3,000 feet, rope-less, no safety gear, nor even a decent view of the top so I knew I was getting somewhere.  

It felt literally like placing one toehold, one slippery grip of a hand at a time, on unpredictable ledges.  Thinking I'm moving forward but not really sure.  Not quite trusting if the next push upward would bring me to new heights or find me flat on my back again, back at square one.  Or, well, dead.  

For me, it was quite honestly a game of move and surrender.  Move.  Surrender.  Move again, surrender.  Drop all expectations and just move.  Surrender.  

It tested every aspect of myself. . .strength, willingness, determination, my ability to accept myself and the moment, but also brought in to question my life as a whole; how I moved, made decisions, nurtured myself, accepted support. . .a level of awareness and humility I'd never been asked to go in to before.

But unlike climbing, getting to know anxiety and it's counterpart, depression, requires no detailed preparation, no obsessive training, no one armed pull-ups, no rehearsing, no pre-mapping, no chalking a route of solid holds.

You can choose at any time, to go right into it.  TOWARDS and THROUGH your fearful, doubting thoughts and see what happens.  Watch instead of engage.  Move.  Surrender.  

You can simply WALK through it.
Which is what I did.

(To be continued. . .a walk turns in to a run.)


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