by Joely Balazs
I had my first diagnosis of anxiety in 1996. A new job had taken me 2000 miles from home AND into another country. I had two years under my belt living in another Province after completing my first degree so the trek from Canada to the United States didn’t seem like much of a challenge. I wanted to explore and I imagine my Mother was more afraid for me than I was. At 26 years old, I had no fear. At least none I was consciously able to acknowledge.
After a few months in this new job, I became increasingly off center. I couldn’t concentrate at my job. I dreaded getting out of bed and going in every day. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. It felt like I had a block but I had no rational idea what was causing it. Then I had these bouts of heart palpitations, I couldn’t breathe, I thought I was going to die and none of my family would even know about it for days because I was so far away. I was angry at how weak I had become.
Finally, after a month of this, I did what any sane, educated professional did at the time: I went to the Doctor. After I decided to make the appointment, I felt a little better. I didn’t have a computer at home, so I looked up my symptoms at work on the fledgling internet. By the time my appointment came along, I convinced myself that I was clearly the victim of some rare, genetic heart disorder. Could I manage to leave work for months to have surgery? Would I need to leave my job altogether? Would I be forced to move home and just die a slow, painful death? Life as I knew it was over… Death was knocking at my door. I had failed. My heart just wasn’t up to the challenge. If only I’d been born to different parents, then this heart disease thing would never have happened.
All of this was tumbling around in my head as the nurse escorted me to the examining room. The Doctor came in. He was tall and severe looking. He sat down without looking at me, reading the chart with nothing on it and asked me to explain my symptoms. I did as he asked, knowing that at any moment I would see the frown of worry crease his brow as he came to realize what I already knew. He then interrupted my chatter and pronounced, “OK, you’re having panic attacks. I can prescribe something for that.” He starts writing on his prescription pad and I explode! “That is NOT what is going on!!! How can you possibly say that when you didn’t even let me finish?!”
I was pissed. Panic attacks? AYFKM??? I wasn’t panicked. How dare he relegate my illness to something as insulting as me being afraid? What kind of crackpot Doctor was he? I insisted he was wrong. That insistence did achieve one thing; he finally looked at me, right in the eyes. He seemed a little angry too. Then he said he could prove it.
I’m always up for that kind of challenge, especially when I’m right, so I accepted. He asked if I was suffering from any symptoms at that moment, I said no. He told me to start taking shallow breaths from my chest and 10 seconds later I succeeded in bringing on one of the worst anxiety attacks I’d ever experienced then or since. He smiled with a hint of arrogance, wrote me a prescription for Ativan, said to take one whenever I had an episode and left.
I was stunned. And infuriated.
Within a few months of that appointment, I did leave that job and moved home. I was desperate for a change in direction. I took the Ativan now and again but growing up with an addict father instilled within me a genuine avoidance of all things drug related, including prescriptions. I learned to manage it on my own by controlling my emotions and my environment. It worked most of the time.
I had a few occasions over the next couple of decades where life became difficult and the anxiety attacks resurfaced at full force. On two of these occasions, the Doctors told me to try meditating. A friend of mine lent me a little book based on Buddhist style meditation with mantras, so I tried that. I bought guided meditations to listen to. I read far too many “How to” books. It didn’t matter… Every time I tried, I got tripped up on the breathing from my belly part. I was focused so intently on breathing from my belly that not once did meditating ever cure me of anything, it just made me realize what a failure I was because I couldn’t even get the breathing part right.
It was around this time that I decided meditation was a scam. It was crazy talk designed to fool people into some ridiculous notion that we have some kind of control over how we feel. In my experience, that was just insane and completely untrue. Therefore, it had to be a scam. Whenever anyone talked about yoga or meditation, I’d roll my eyes and judge them a fool inside while smiling and nodding to their face on the outside.
Until just over a year ago.
My ability to control my life became increasingly complicated. Both of my parents had passed away a couple of years apart. My career sucked. My entire life which began full of wonder and excitement had turned into this angry blamefest. Everything that could go wrong, would go wrong. I was literally hanging by a thread. It was my lowest point. I had to do something, but how was I supposed to solve it? There was no way I was going to take pills after watching my Dad die a little bit every day thanks to prescription drug abuse. I didn’t even know how to meditate! Life wasn’t meant to be lived like this.
Unless I was wrong.
I decided to give myself permission to entertain that notion. Nobody needed to know. Everything we know or think we know is available at our fingertips now, compared to the limited access I had back in 1996. There’s no harm in looking it up, maybe others have had the same problems meditating that I had? Maybe the answer is out there somewhere? In my search, I happened upon an Abraham Hicks session on YouTube concerning meditation and it literally changed my entire outlook.
Meditation is nothing more than a conscious method to calm down the inner turmoil in an attempt to find some peace. The result of which is to FEEL better. So why not start with how you’d like to feel and go from there? Throw out all the rules of “how to” meditate and simply focus on feeling better. The biggest and most challenging question for me then became, “How do I want to feel?”
For decades, whenever I had bouts of anxiety, frustration and anger, all I ever really wanted was relief. I felt so tired. I dreamed of rest. I could imagine what it must feel like to be free of life’s restrictions and demands. Then I’d feel such despair because I believed relief was a state I wasn’t worthy of feeling. I was a failure pretending to be a success. Relief was always just off in the distance, like a dream outside of my reach, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Relief. That was the answer to my question. That’s what I wanted to feel. So I took Abraham’s advice and settled into a comfortable position and allowed my imagination to run towards the dream of relief. I imagined how it would FEEL. I imagined the circumstances that might take place to allow me to feel it, even just a little bit. After a few minutes of determined focus, the feeling of relief came to me and embraced me in a warm, cozy comfort. I felt it so vividly, tickling at my insides. And it felt so good… At first, I had brief moments of despair trying to rain on my parade, saying the usual, “What’s the sense? This is silly. It’s not real. What’s the point?”
I remember laughing a little too. My negative voice is quite insistent! I listened to it for much of my life. It kept me safe and protected on more than a few occasions. But this time, that voice was wrong. I knew it wasn’t serving me and I had to try something so I just laughed at myself and went back to the awesome feeling of relief.
I milked it too. Every opportunity I had, I would shut my eyes and imagine the feeling of “relief”. I would hold onto it for as long as it would take. In the beginning, I couldn’t focus on it for more than a few minutes at a time and it didn’t matter. It was up to me. This was my version of meditating so it’s not like I could do it wrong. It was liberating that I got to decide what worked for me. After a few months of this, I actually started seeing an improvement in my overall emotional state. I was feeling better more often than not. I had my “go to” method of “meditation”. Finally!
It didn’t take long for me to understand that if I could do this with “relief”, I could do it with just about any feeling. After a few months, I started trying out other feelings like joy, wonder, or gratitude using the same basic method of imagination and milking it for as long as I could when the feeling connected. I began to notice that different colors would swirl in my mind’s eye as I felt different emotions. Images reflecting that emotional state would pop up occasionally too. It has been the most fascinating and rewarding exercise I have ever done in my lifetime.
In just over a year, I have dramatically altered how I feel. I have uncovered things about myself I didn’t even know existed. I held onto pain like nobody’s business, I became an expert in “hanging on”. I was so good I even held on to other people’s pain for them! As I began to feel better, it became easier to let those things go and forgive myself and others. I began to learn what self-compassion really means and continued to apply it rather than bury it. My deepest, darkest belief that love didn’t really exist was turned upside down as I began to feel it, for myself.
A few months ago, I had a truly profound moment related to my lifelong trials with meditation. I had gone to bed, about to go to sleep. I was lying on my back with my hands resting on my midriff area, close to my waist. I wasn’t meditating, just thinking about some mundane things when all of a sudden I realized that my hands were going up and down as I was breathing!!! It freaked me out! Not once in my lifetime can I EVER remember this happening. I didn’t know what was going on. I called my husband in and showed him, “Look! My belly is going up and down when I breathe! WTF is that about???”
I was genuinely concerned. I’d never experienced anything like it. The next day I kept watching and, sure enough, I was breathing from my belly. Every breath I took… It was at that moment the memory of the Doctor’s visit in 1996 came rushing to the fore. For the first time in my life I wasn’t breathing from my chest, the place of fear and anxiety and panic, I was breathing from a deeper place, a place of relief, happiness and calm. I didn’t need a pill to fix me; I just needed to give myself permission to feel better.
Feeling better is possible and it is real. Make a conscious decision about how you want to feel and allow yourself to feel it, even if it is only for a few seconds. If you’re tired of the dark side, make an effort to expand your horizons. Feeling good is amazing! We are all designed to feel any way we choose. If you genuinely want to feel better, only you can make it happen. It’s OK to discover what method works best for you and it’s incredibly rewarding when you unlock your ability to figure it out for yourself.
This article was written by Joely Balazs and the art provided in this article was by the author. You can find more of her art work by going to this link
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