A few days ago I was drowning in anxiety. I was completely debilitated and paralyzed with it. I had some really invasive medical tests done and spent two days sleeping and sobbing. You know, that "anxiety cry" that is different than a cry you have when you are mad, sad, or overly stressed. Yes, THAT kind of cry. It's not pretty. It feels desperate.
After eating about 3,000 calories just from chocolate bars alone, I calmed down. Was it the sugar streaming through my bloodstream, or did it happen because I willed it to? I'm pretty sure it was the chocolate and sugar. I know better; I am borderline diabetic. But it did calm me down. I would like to have thought I had control over it, but the truth is, I did not. And I think that's why I instinctively run to sugar whenever I am stressed, bored, angry, tired, anxious, etc.
Here's the curious thing: the anxiety did not come back after my indulgence. I was able to see solutions to my problems (most of them anyway) and was able to toss my worry aside. I also watched the video that was posted in the forums about "How Not To Be A Coward", and something there grabbed my attention. This was the statement that when we name our feelings and emotions, they lose power over us. I realized how profound yet simple this was. I realized I can untie the ropes that hold me hostage in times like that. It was refreshing and gave me hope.
This is just one strategy that I can put in my tool belt for future use. But today, a different day, I realized that AWARENESS of our feelings, and situations that trigger those controlling feelings- especially those seemingly benign ones such as boredom, or stress relief after a busy day- is of the utmost importance. These are the "sneaky times" when I tend to make excuses for my behavior: "Today was a rough day and I deserve it", or "It's Friday, and I deserve it", or "I need something to put on my stomach before I take this medicine... Oh, look, there's a package of Pop Tarts!" Yeah- those are the times that catch us off guard. But not if we prepare ourselves. But how do we do that?
Now, I in no way claim to be a psychologist, a doctor, a nutritionist, a counselor, or anything of that sort. I am simply sharing personal experiences in the hope that they may help you too. If you do not find any gems in this basket of rocks I am presenting, then that is fine. But if you are one of those that find yourself in a similar situation, get out your paper and pen and get ready to take notes. I am about to get brutally honest.
I have admitted to myself that I am an "emotional eater". Does that mean that I "eat" or "stuff down" or refrain from expressing my emotions? Yes. In both ways, literally and metaphorically, I am an emotion(al) eater. I accept that this is who I am, and I know it is not who I want to be. Obviously, a change needs to take place somewhere, somehow. I have made myself painfully aware of the fact that I have really bad habits that are controlling me, and that I am not in control of them. Habits are sneaky.
I started a list today (in fact, I started it just a few minutes ago in the course of writing this article) of all the situations that cause me to lose myself in the chocolate and the sugar and the bliss and temporary forgetfulness and amnesia that beckons during tough times. Friday? Check. After work between 4 and 6 pm? Check. After medical procedures that involve really long needles being stuck in my spine repeatedly and I'm AWAKE for it? Double check. When my kids are being asinine and purposely annoying? Check. And so it goes. All the potential situations are being put on that list. For some reason, like in the video, naming the feeling, naming the situation, makes it lose some of it's power. It's no longer a secret. It is written there, in black and white. This list will serve as a reminder that I made myself aware; I can no longer deny that I am not aware. Therefore, I will not have an excuse. And if I do, it will go on the list and be called out. Eventually, there will not be anymore excuses. And I will be required to hold myself accountable.
As a result of having all those needles put into my back, I found out that I do not have Multiple Sclerosis. I also found out that I do not have Rheumatoid Arthritis. Is that good or bad? Well, it just means that I need to look at other reasons why my joints hurt, and why my muscles stiffen up every time I get up from sitting in a chair, or getting out of bed, or sitting on the floor to do my job (playing with kids), etc. It's like I've been sitting for 20 years asleep under a tree and wake up one day only to find out I'm as stiff as the Tin Man or Rumpelstiltskin when in fact I've only been sitting for a few minutes... My muscles and joints just are not working well. Few activities are enjoyable now because I cannot stand up and walk well after resting. I cannot close my fingers to make a complete fist because it hurts. I pull muscles just by opening doors or opening a jar of tomato sauce... You get the picture. But what does this have to do with naming feelings and holding myself accountable? Hold on, I'm getting there. It's all connected.
I have come to the conclusion that I probably am not taking care of myself. I am making myself sick. Stress is a killer. I have had more stress in the past year or two than I have ever had in my life up to now. Anything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. Sound familiar? And there has been no end in sight, until now. I realized that stress will never end, and that I am letting the stress control me, I am not controlling the stress. It is a vicious cycle as they say, and sometimes you need to put a cog in the wheel and just make it stop for a minute. Somehow, some way.
Part of what is discussed and presented here in this space is the mind-body-wellness connection. Mental health, physical health, spiritual health, etc. are ALL connected. I realized I am not using all the tools in my tool belt. Perhaps the most important one is self-discipline. I'm trying to cop out right now by saying "I don't know anything about self-discipline, so how can I write about it?" as I am writing this article about self-discipline. And it's true- I cannot claim that I know about self-discipline because I have not made it a priority to discipline myself before. But now I find myself in a position that requires it. I don't want to feel like Rumpelstiltskin after 20 years of sleeping under the tree. I don't want to feel like the Tin Man needing a good oiling after standing for years in the rain. I don't want to be forgetful, tired, emotionally unresilient, and prone to anxiety and depression. Not to mention the heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes that runs in my family. I am not taking care of myself. I owe it to myself to do better. The time has come for me to have a "Come to Jesus" discussion with myself (which is what I am actually doing right now, only it is disguised as an article hahahaha).
So what is the plan? Step one, I have admitted that I have a problem and that I desperately want to do something about it. Step 2, I have written down all the situations that may cause me to backslide in my good intentions. Step 3, I realize that self-discipline cannot work without declaring a specific intention and then breaking things down into small steps. Step 4, I accept the following facts: that the beginning will be the hardest stage of all, that I WILL mess up once in a while, that I need to be gentle with myself when I do screw up, and that it will require some action on my part EVERY DAY. That action will likely be small and not very time-consuming, and therefore I really have no excuse not to do it except for laziness. Still, there will be days when I forget or don't do it and at these times also, I need to be gentle with myself and simply get back on track and keep moving forward.
Lastly, it is extremely important to come up with some substitute activity to compensate for the habit that I desire to change. For me, the hardest part is listening to that nagging voice that says, "DON'T EAT THE POP TART, FIND SOMETHING BETTER"... Basically, that nagging voice is always urging me to make a better choice. So why is it SO HARD to physically take action and listen to that voice? It's because we have not allowed ourselves to make different choices in the past. It is because of HABIT.
Start small. Start with one inconsequential action that does not have big consequences. Start with something that is not that important, that won't break your heart ("I'll drink water instead of the Cherry Dr. Pepper, even though I really want the Dr. Pepper"), and do it during a time that is NOT a crisis moment. In this way, you are practicing making a better choice when the pressure is off, and your brain realizes it is NOT going to kill you to just drink water, or to wait 15 minutes longer for dinner before eating those two donuts (yes, I was guilty of that this evening too), or to exercise for 10 minutes instead of watching TV. You will have PRACTICE before the shit hits the fan and will be more resilient and capable of making better choices when those feelings of anxiety, anger, boredom, etc. actually do surface.
I also have to face the fact that eating those donuts, drinking the whiskey, and eating the chocolate bars may help temporarily but will completely wreck me in the end. I think of myself at 70 or 80- do I want to be old but still able to move around fairly well, or do I want to be 70 or 80 and using a walker or in a wheelchair, and unable to breathe and do self-care because I'm overweight and have lost a limb to diabetes, etc. etc. etc. Or not alive at all at that point because I had a heart attack... The chocolate at that point will NOT have been worth it.
Self-discipline requires you to look ahead, to focus on that specific intention that you set earlier, in order to accomplish the goal. It takes self-discipline and awareness to keep those toxic emotions in check too. It is no different than working towards better physical habits. The process is the same. It's important to express them in healthy ways, even if it is to YOURSELF- by naming them- than to deny that they are there, or to stuff them down with food, or to let them take control to the point that they control you instead of you controlling them. Priorities are important here. It is acceptable to pick your battles instead of giving in to the whims of everyone else and everything around you. It is empowering to say "I am doing this because I CHOOSE IT", and to do it intentionally rather than out of escape or because we are paralyzed by our emotions. And this is where we can discuss how Prymal fits into all of this.
When we take positive steps to engage in self-discipline, especially in order to become healthier, we are protecting and honoring our sacred selves. We DESERVE to be the best we can be. It is our natural right to do this. We are CAPABLE of making better choices, even though sometimes we feel that concept is so foreign to us. I will refrain from giving too many specific suggestions in becoming more self-disciplined because what works for me might not work for everyone. I will say that I am a list-writing, journaling, visual board/visual reminder sort of person. I do not do well in support groups necessarily. I have learned to not bite off more than I can chew at any one time. I have learned the art of patience. I know I do better around positive people than negative ones. I know I feel better in an uncluttered environment, where I can control and eliminate those small things that cause big frustration- lost keys, can't find matching socks, I forgot to pack a lunch for work, I don't have room to adequately do my paperwork, I can't find an ink pen to take down this phone number, etc. I find the small frustrations early in the day cause my whole day to suffer, and this leads to toxic emotions, emotional eating, need to escape, etc. As a result, I am constantly making things easier for myself so I don't constantly find myself in those situations that cause so much frustration and anger and anxiety. I have realized that this is an ongoing process, and as much as I would like for things to stay nice and orderly and organized, that is not completely realistic and it's ok to be able to do ENOUGH. I don't need to beat myself up for not being perfect. That just causes more stress. Take care of yourself, in ALL ways, because YOU ARE SACRED. YOU ARE PRYMAL. YOU ARE WORTH IT.
Prymal also plays a role in helping to soothe through the tough times. Those of you who are familiar with me know that I seem to harp on traditions, working with your hands, looking at how the Ancestors lived... And there is reason for that. It helps us get in touch with our Spirit Voice. The Spirit Voice leads us to what is soothing, and satisfying, and sacred to us- those things that for whatever reason puts things in perspective, give us true happiness and joy, and help us to focus on truly LIVING. The Ancestors were (up until recent times) focused mostly on surviving (although I still find many of us are still just trying to survive in this day and age, though in a different way and for different reasons). Their joy revolved around family, and nature- the sun coming up the next day or coming around in the next season was a really GOOD thing, and their rituals and traditions reflected this. We take it for granted now that the sun WILL keep on shining and that we will have enough food to feed us because the grocery store supplies it, etc. But will we? And will it continue to be supplied?
The problems we have now are small compared to the real-life situations that our Ancestors found themselves in, but we believe our issues are the end of the world. Most of the time, they are not. For example, there was a greater acceptance of death, and at an earlier age I think, than there is now. We fear it so much more now because we face it less than our Ancestors did. Not that it was any less painful for them, but because it was more common. Engaging in Prymal serves as a guide to what is really important in the grand scheme of things. It helps us to make true connections with others and helps us focus more on the joys of life than the problems of life. It helps us to appreciate the natural cycles and seasons, both literally and metaphorically (Maiden, Mother, Crone; Birth, death, etc...). Our Ancestors have so much to teach us, if only we are willing to learn.
For the first time in a long time I was paralyzed with anxiety and fear. I made it through. I WILL make lasting changes. I WILL engage in activities that feed my Spirit. I WILL be in control of the choices I make and the situations I find myself in. I choose to lead a purposeful, Spirit-led life. Bringing it all back to a neutral state, or "center" as I call it when things get messy is tough, but that is the goal. We all have the tools before us and within us to achieve it. Awareness is key. Substituting harmful habits with healthier ones takes practice, but IS completely possible with patience and persistence. Surrounding yourself with positive people is important. Loving yourself, forgiving yourself, and remembering what is sacred can lead to healing. I don't know exactly how I am going to get from point A to point B yet, but I have a good idea of where to start... With myself. Untie those knots, break those chains, and roll your sleeves up. What have you got to lose?
P.S.: This space has been instrumental in providing some of the best resources I have found to encourage and support my healing and personal progress. And I am really thankful for it. Just wanted to say that out loud :) <3 Today is a different day! And I'm so very glad about it!