January 28, 2022

Anxiety is a Weed you have to Pull.

“It plants itself like a seed and starts to grow in the dark places of your soul.” ~ Cathy Rosenberg


I vividly recall sitting in my car, parked outside the juice bar.

I was on the schedule to teach a yoga class, just five minutes away, but I couldn’t breathe.

I was physically unable to stop sobbing, and as if someone else was doing it, I watched my fingers dial her number. I couldn’t squeeze words out, just heaves.

“Cath, you okay? my mom asked. All I could do was shake. I couldn’t reassure her because the truth was, I was far from okay. That yoga class never happened. This was a panic attack, and attack is the only word to describe it.

“A panic attack goes from 0 to 100 in an instant. It’s halfway between feeling like you’ll faint and feeling like you’ll die.” (HealthyPlace)  

It was the first time the assailant kept me from living my life in such an overt way.

As I reflect, its presence was much more subtle in the previous months and years. It was as if someone had sprayed a mist into my body and everything felt not quite right. I did not feel my juices flowing. My reaction to stress was completely exaggerated. I would become paralyzed with fear when teaching a familiar face in a yoga class. I was uneasy during moments that normally might have felt like a delicious slice of life, and a sense of disconnection laid over me like a heavy blanket. My emotions became amplified or muted. I felt flat. I had real physical symptoms.

“Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” (HealthyPlace)  

For our 50th birthdays, I planned a family trip to Europe. Alan and I had never been, while our children had traversed the globe before their 21st birthdays. So a family vacation we would take. Our travel guides they would be. After all, we had invested in their research, right?

There were many joyful experiences, and some dark moments as well. Mostly, I remember feeling incredulous that this dream I had been creating for years wasn’t getting the adrenaline pumping. Why wasn’t I looking forward to it the way I expected? Why were there many moments when I felt completely disconnected from the people I most adore in this world?

It was me, not them. And yet, I still wasn’t seeing it.

“Living with anxiety is like being followed by a voice. It knows all your insecurities and uses them against you. It gets to the point when it’s the loudest voice in the room. The only one you can hear.” (HealthyPlace)  

It must have been a weed that was growing for years—like a stranger standing in the back of a room who nobody noticed. If you’re a gardener, you know how quickly they can choke out a thriving garden, if not pulled when first noticed. But how do you pull something you don’t see?

Years of living life to the fullest filled my calendar pages. This was not a debilitating condition. Most would describe me as one of the happiest people they know, and they would have nailed it, and then there was this insipid haze.

The little green leaves kept growing, and spreading, in the quietest of moments that nobody could see. I recall sitting outside of a yoga studio, so nervous to teach that my feet were sweating. I entered without shoes, which nobody questioned in a yoga studio. There were so many moments when life created the perfect setting for the ruse.

Who knows how much energy I burned through teaching that beautiful class? It was both the perfect distraction, and all I could do to hold it together. No one would be the wiser, and yet they would leave so much better than they came. I would leave filled up, until the next visit from this uninvited mystery guest.

“At its worst, anxiety can feel like death. At its best, anxiety can feel like a cramping stomach.” ~ Ari Eastman

There weren’t enough pieces of the puzzle to put together. There wasn’t even a puzzle. I had no awareness that this was anxiety. I didn’t even fully grasp the meaning of the word. Anxiety is quite different than feeling anxious. Ask anyone who has lived it.

I figured I was nervous because I had recently graduated from yoga teacher training and was already teaching full-time. Wasn’t everyone as nervous as I was? That answer is no.

The nerves were profound. Some nights, I couldn’t sleep as the reels of what could go wrong played over and over in my head. What if I forgot a side? What would happen if I used the wrong word when offering a cue?

The class would go off without a hitch as it always did,  and I would justify the nervousness to being anxious, wanting to be worthy of students’ time, wanting them to be stirred inside the way I was on my yoga mat.

“Do not believe all the things you tell yourself late at night.” (HealthyPlace)  

It’s astonishing to me that nobody in my life ever seemed curious, or perhaps they sensed something but couldn’t make it out. The moments were mostly private ones. I wasn’t sleeping the way I always had and that was one of my superpowers. Some nights, I was so filled with terror that my body, on high alert, would not allow me to sleep at all. There were a series of nights when I never closed my eyes at all, not for a minute.

I’d dreamed about teaching in the yoga studios I was teaching in. I was living the dream and the thrill was overwhelming, yet at times completely underwhelming.

When sleep gets interrupted, it’s hard not to notice. Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture in some parts of the world. Did I mention I was also in the midst of a huge health crisis? I had recently broken both knees, at the same time, while jogging on a treadmill. This drove me to seek answers. I opened my own investigation into what was wrong with my bones, and then expanded the scope to my entire body. I wanted every shred of information that existed on every cell of my body.

There were severe vitamin deficiencies. The symptoms were anxiety and depression. At the time, I was completely dependent on others for every meal, every trip to the bathroom, and every independent thought became a request for help from someone else. I was a dependent and created work for those around me.

I had been instructed by my doctor to be completely non-weight-bearing for six weeks. This was the equivalent of someone pulling a cloth out from under a beautifully set table. Life just started cracking into pieces and falling to the floor. I was doing everything I could to remain that happy spirit, my calling card, but my spirit wasn’t home.

I often look back to see if I missed big clues. Was there anything I overlooked?  The answer is no; they weren’t big, but in hindsight, they were there and it all started coming together.

This little green weed implanted itself on my soul and wrapped around my world—slowly and steadily choking out my sunshine. Unlike flowers that need sun and water, this one thrived in the darkness, and my soul became its host.

The aftermath was several months of darkness. Two strangers entered my body and made themselves at home. They were anxiety and depression. There were physical reasons for their existence. Not many people realize that vitamin deficiencies can wreak havoc on the mind and body. Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 were virtually nonexistent in my system. Serotonin production was practically shut down and my cortisol was off the charts. I was a chemistry experiment gone awry.

I stopped pretending that everything was okay, because I no longer could. I took a hiatus from teaching and did absolutely anything and everything to address my mental health, which was sick in the same way that cancer makes a person feel sick. These symptoms were my body telling me something was wrong, and I listened. The symptoms were no different than a patient with a sore throat or a stomachache. But the world doesn’t see it that way. I asked friends on social media to give me space to heal myself and then I took a long break from it.

My body wasn’t digesting vitamins and not providing nutrition. My labs looked like that of a person who was starving and yet I was eating what I believed to be a healthy diet. It just wasn’t the diet my body needed. We all have unique needs based on our chemistry. It’s similar to how we decide what gas to put in our car, depending on the engine. On the outside, I was the poster child for living the good life, but the darker things got, the harder that performance was to put on, day after day.

“I’m noticing that the things that make me anxious now are things that I wasn’t allowed to do as a child: asking for help, slowing down, making mistakes, needing attention.” (HealthyPlace)  

This culminated in several months of feeling like someone else. People who didn’t get me may have thought I was cracking up, but I was actually cracking open. I was shedding skins that were too tight. I was breaking free of chains that had held me back because of ideas that had been planted in my head so many years ago. Due to painful experiences in childhood, self-doubt and a lack of believing in myself  became the lens I saw life through.

I didn’t outgrow that fear, it just buried itself until the conditions were ideal for thriving. Several years ago, when my body was at its weakest and most vulnerable, anxiety attacked.

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it, for a few minutes, including you.” ~ Anne Lamott

I now realize that chapter in my life was a reboot. I feel stronger and wiser than I ever have. I feel I’ve earned this because I summoned the courage to face my deepest fears.

What would people think if I shared what I was feeling? Would they judge me? (That answer is a yes.) Those who did weren’t my people. Those who didn’t understand but wanted to became my people. And those who welcomed my broken soul into their lives remain friends for life. Their acceptance of me in the darkest night of my soul was the most fertile ground I have stood on, albeit shaky.

What has flourished in the wake of that cleansing is the sweetest peace I have ever known. I feel I have been liberated.

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” ~ Christine Caine


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