“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” ~Johann Von Goethe
I am on a journey of trust. It’s been about trusting my body, knowing that it can take care of itself without the control of my mind.
For three and a half years, my body and mind have been enemies and I have been trying so hard, and knowingly, too hard, to get back to where I was at seventeen.
It all began when I had an episode of hyperventilation in January 2010, when I heard that my Granny, who was terminally ill, had just suffered a heart attack.
She survived it, but I knew she was going to go soon and I had never lost anyone before. It scared me and caused this anxious reaction. I feared the same thing would happen to me. My parents told me otherwise, and I believed them.
My Granny died that April, and my reaction to it all was very delayed. It took me several weeks to let it all out.
I was fine then until that August, when my parents and I stayed in a rented apartment that resembled a home of an elderly couple. It reminded me of my Granny, and that was the trigger.
I hyperventilated again. This time, rather than breathing and relaxing, I thought the best way through was to tense up.
I didn’t realize that this would be my automatic reaction whenever I got stressed for the next three and a half years.
It felt like my body had an invisible belt that tightened, no matter how I tried to relax.
Even if I didn’t feel stressed about anything in particular, this tension polluted events that I had looked forward to because I was trying so hard to enjoy myself, which made it all the more frustrating.
Over time, it began to worry me. I would wake up, hoping it would disappear, and ask for a day where I could just breathe in a relaxed, normal way again. When I wouldn’t, I thought of the consequences of chronic tension and worry and what it would mean to my health.
Living away from home in my second year of university, I experienced severe anxiety and mild depression.
I had been suffering inside alone until January 2013, when I told family and friends, hoping that they would understand and give me some support. Still struggling, I went to my doctor and asked about therapy.
For four months, starting in June, I did cognitive behavioral therapy to help improve my thought patterns so I could learn to react to stress in a more rational way. I also received modules to help me through hypochondria, which was the key problem.
Mid-way through my therapy, I had an emergency kidney operation. While recovering in the hospital, I found that my mind trusted my body to breathe, simply as a survival instinct. I knew then that I could do it and hoped that I would be able to continue to breathe easily once I was better.
I recovered at home for most of the summer and found that, as I got healthier, my mind got busier. Old controlling patterns returned and my anxiety was back.
I saw improvements, though, as I continued with therapy. When the four months were up, my therapist was pleased with how well I had done, bringing my severe anxiety and mild depression down to the sub-clinical, everyday range.
She reminded me that I had done all the work myself, and that she had only be there to listen, which I think is something to remember if you want to get counseling.
After I was discharged I had a couple of wobbly months. I described it as being like a child who has had their training wheels taken off their bike. I wondered, though, when that period would end so I could start living the life I wanted.
I realized that my therapy work had gone out of the window and that I had to continue practicing what I had learned in those four months for the rest of my life.
For the last year I have been reading the articles on Tiny Buddha. I have been motivated and inspired by the stories from people who also dealt with anxiety, depression, and loss. Sometimes just reading a post would make me feel better.
However, just reading their tips only took me so far. I needed to try them out for myself, to see if they worked for me. It’s that word, practice, that I have been struggling with, and patience and perseverance. These are my words that help me through, and now I can add trust.
Practice, Patience, Perseverance, and Trust
I find knitting is a great representation of all these things.
Without practice, you won’t expect those uneven stiches to improve and or the projects to be completed. Without patience, you won’t accept your flaws and will be extremely angry with yourself. Without perseverance, you won’t be able to see your improvements being made, and without trust, you will be deprived of the belief that you can achieve great things.
I find knitting is a great way to relax, and scientifically proven to slow the heart rate and calm the mind.
Another thing that helps me is my stress journal. Writing is an effective way of logging of your thoughts, processes, and achievements. It is also scientifically proven that writing relaxes the mind.
Music, such as instrumental tracks, have also been effective for me. There are plenty on YouTube such as “relaxdaily,” who creates beautiful New Age music. Other types of relaxing music come in meditation form, such as PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation), which loosens tense muscles all over the body.
It can take a long time to see progress when you’re using these kinds of tools, and I often need to remind myself of that. But I now trust that I will get better at this.
I have been making good progress and I have tense days every so often, but only the other day, when I was having a mild panic attack, did I realize that it’s about perspective.
I had been so tight inside because I thought I had to be relaxed all the time, and I wasn’t. I felt I had to breathe slower so I wouldn’t be susceptible to high blood pressure and my mind wouldn’t take control, preventing me from just being.
But I’ve come to realize I don’t need to try so hard. Recently I’ve started trusting my body, telling myself that I am healthy and I am living a healthy lifestyle. I’ve begun to trust that I can breathe freely if I allow myself to.
We all experience stress, anxiety, and depression in different ways, and we all recover in our own unique ways too. However, it’s not about finding a cure. It’s about taking power back from our thoughts so we don’t allow stress and fear to control us.
We all want to enjoy our lives, and we can: by being patient with our progress, persevering with our progress, and trusting that we are making progress.
Eventually, you will see that progress. Just keep practicing.
Photo by Hartwig HKD