Anxiety used to be something that came up regularly. It would arise whenever I had to deal with something I was uncomfortable about at work, or in my relationships, or my studies. Mostly I was very poor at expressing this. I bottled it all up and eventually I started to experience almost constant physical pain as a result. In the earlier years I used to respond physically as well by coming down with a bad flu or cold after exams, or during my holidays. But this pain was something else. For 10 years now it’s been there. I’ve come to recognise it as a marker for the amount of pressure I’m experiencing.
I’m now in the final 6 months of writing my PhD on the transformation of Achilles in Homer’s Iliad. I keep a flexible but steady schedule and I’m making good progress. I took 8 months off last year to get on top of anxiety and depression and this was a tremendously good move, both for my mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing, as well as for my thesis. A healthy mind is the greatest asset we can have.
I’m writing now to share my relapse. My shame used to prohibit me from doing this, but it is important to accept the fact that this is part of the journey. If anyone does read this, or has read my other writings, I don’t want to create a false impression that the path is all rosy. Sometimes it is hell.
I should say that I am not writing from the place of darkness now. This morning after talking with my wife about this and walking to my office something has started to shift.
It began on Friday. After having a meeting with one of my supervisors I sent him my draft. I’ve been delaying doing this, but after a positive meeting it felt good to send this off. That evening I felt this wave of deep tiredness pass through my body and out with friends I found it very difficult to function. I found it hard to think or speak. Really, I didn’t much want to do either. Later that night when I got home a quite wave of panic coursed through me, just before bed. I had no idea what it was about, and so I just quietly calmed myself.
Over the weekend I noticed myself feeling a little detached, but able to work on a couple of pressing assignments. Monday came around and I spent the day watching films and taking notes occasionally. I often use Mondays to get more perspective on the thesis before starting new sections. Still behind this was a feeling of pressure. This is there almost constantly now as the thesis enters the final months.
Tuesday came and despite tiredness I pushed through to produce some good work. Leaving uni though, I started to feel all kinds of emotions swimming in my head – anger, frustration, restlessness, and fear. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I wanted to shut myself away. Looking around me, all I could think of was getting away, getting out of here. All the while part of me was just watching all this, while the louder negative thoughts were just saying that it’s all crap. My mind was playing some intensely powerful material. I knew though, that I just needed to sit down somewhere and get it out, write this stuff down. After an hour or so of walking I found a quiet pub where I sat and wrote for a while. While I was there I recognised that I needed to limit the costs of this episode. So, feeling the anger subsiding I joined the family for dinner and the evening developed nicely from there.
This morning the anger and anxiety re-awoke. My wife was aware of my physical discomfort, and talking about ways of dealing with that, I started talking about the emotions behind the pain. You see, my body is absolutely fine. There is no physiological reason for my pain, and so treatments only work to temporarily relieve the pain. Only changing my emotions and thoughts has a lasting effect, but that also requires discipline and awareness. Talking about this, I could feel the anger rising at first and then gradually subsiding as I started to acknowledge what I was experiencing and that I know I have the resources to deal with this. The scariest part comes in those moments when you don’t feel that it’s worth it. While not thinking this consciously, at some level there is a belief that in these moments everything can be lost. Maybe there is something to be learned in this though.
The fear of loss makes us hold on to so much that hurts us. It keeps us in a prison of fear. I often ask people I’m coaching to tell me what the worst thing could be if they gave up or lost something. If I lost everything, what then? I think of the distress this would cause those in my life. But what then? Pain, death, suffering are all a part of this existence. It’s my love that stops me from stepping out of life in these dark moments. The thing with suffering is that there is more than enough of it in the world without doing something that you know will add to it.
Is this then one of the reasons for my descent into the underworld of my own mind? To recognise my own care and love? Like the great heroes of myth, I believe we take ourselves on these journeys, including the journey into death. This is after all, what we face in the darkest moments of depression and anxiety – our own death. My wisdom tells me to accept this, to embrace death, and yet my heart tells me to love life. It is only with love that we can find true meaning in suffering, and that we can rise above death, and instead embrace life. If I can do this, and I believe I can, then I will succeed.
Thank you for taking the time to read and listen. By doing so, in some subtle way, you are also supporting me in my journey as you are also supporting everyone going through the same life challenges on the journey of awakening.
I am blessed to have a beautiful and loving wife to talk things like this through and it’s also for her that I am inspired to lift my self up and keep going.