I woke up Wednesday morning already anxious, but there wasn't anything external forcing it (I guess, is there ever? I don't know about you, but my anxiety lives in my own head, for the most part). This was perplexing. I couldn't identify any cause for it, a powerless feeling, because if you don't know why you feel bad, you can't do anything about it, right? Used to be I would cast about for something external to help explain the anxiety, too, which had to perplex and annoy the people around me pretty good. "It can't be me," my subconscious must have been saying. "It must be all those socks strewn about all over the house!"
Then I had this realization that the feeling I was having was an old anxiety, or rather a residual anxiety. Maybe even a memory of anxiety. An anxiety habit.
Here is what it felt like: when I was a kid, maybe ten, maybe thirteen, I don't know, I would wake up in the middle of the night, look at the clock, and in sleeping-walking-type fashion, I would get ready for school in a huge rush. It could be 3 in the morning, and my brain would see the clock, think it was 3pm, and figure that I was late, late, late. I'd get dressed, brush my teeth, and be in the process of curling my hair (yes, I was curling my hair in third grade) before I'd realize that it was dark outside and the house was too eerily quiet for it to really be morning. Then I'd curse and go back to bed, knowing I'd have to get up in a few hours and get ready all over again. This happened several times. One time involved spooning a lot of mayonnaise into my mouth in the middle of the night. Ew.
It's symbolic of the kinds of anxiety I felt most deeply as a kid. Anxiety that I would be late; that I would be unprepared; that I wouldn't know something; that I would screw something up and be found out.
Still deal with most of those on a very basic, reflexive level, though I'd like to believe I've made some progress in a few of these areas. I'm a little less of a know-it-all than I used to be, I hope, because I don't need quite so badly to be seen as smart or prepared. I'm late now and then and it doesn't freak me out as much as it used to. I listen a lot more to how I feel and what I want to do, rather than what I feel I have to do. I screw up a lot and am able to laugh about it. Not always, but sometimes. That is progress, and my life keeps getting better and better as a result.
Tuesday morning I was supposed to have my annual performance review. I realized right at the meeting time that I had forgotten the appointment and was home stuffing a muffin in my mouth and had just prepared a cup of coffee. I literally threw the muffin aside (lucky Milo) and screamed out the door and onto the snowy roads. My boss was incredibly understanding as I called her on my way to the office and told me to take my time. It ended up being a good meeting, and I didn't get too into a tizzy over it. Even though, Jesus, I was just freaking LATE for my annual performance review. How lame can you get. Plus I had to ask for a raise. Awesome. It all worked out fine, though.
But then I woke up the next morning with the ill-defined anxiety. The old anxiety.
Hmmm. Interesting, that is.
This is what meditation does for me. It helps me to see the anxiety as the not-me. It helps me to not follow it to some sort of logical conclusion. It helps me to realize there is nothing I need to "do" to alleviate it. It allays my need to stuff down the pain of the anxiety with my other old habits.
It's not just a coping mechanism, though. It's a realization that, fundamentally, there is some "me" that is not beholden to satisfying or allaying my anxieties. I do it because it feels good, so much better than anything I could do to try to deal with my anxiety otherwise. It makes life easier, and happier, and everything good that you can think of. All just from breathing with some bells.