Overcoming Anxiety

I clearly remember the first time that I got behind the steering wheel of a car. I felt two kinds of contrasting emotions stirring within me. I felt a sense of power and an incredibly debilitating sense of fear, at the thought of all that power. One wrong move and the car would crash and along with it, all my hopes of healthy living might crash too. Unfortunately, that day, I gave more attention to the second feeling, completely setting aside all other rational thoughts.

From that day on, every time I sat on the driver’s seat of a car, I let that hopeless feeling take control of me. The whole time, I was learning to drive, I would imagine me and my car in all kind of disaster scenarios. It was like watching a movie in my head, except it didn’t seem fictional. I was the hero of the movie and I was also the villain, as I crashed the car into some ditch or a tree or some other car and did nothing but destroy, just like any classic bad guy would do.

The big change

Then, I got married and came down to USA, a land where life threw me in front of my biggest challenge. There was no way out, and I had to drive here, especially if I didn’t want to be stuck in my home for the rest of my life. I had to get behind the wheels again, accompanied by all of my fears, fast-beating heart, panic attacks and so on and so forth.

Every night, I would think about various excuses, to use on my husband, as to why I couldn’t come out for driving practice the next day. I could pretend to be sick. I could just say that I’m extremely tired, from having spent the whole day at home. I could just tell him that I had to feel the urge to drive and I just wasn’t feeling it. The words stayed stuck in my throat. Even I knew that those excuses sounded hollow. Even I knew that I had to act grown up and just get through this challenge. But, I felt helpless in front of the non-stop disastrous thought patterns that my mind kept presenting. It took me ages to understand that what I had been experiencing all these years, right from my childhood had a name attached to it.

Anxiety defined

The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as, ” An emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” It sounds very simplistic when you put what you feel in a decided set of words. But words cannot do justice to what you feel, no matter how eloquently they are put together. You want to cry, but tears won’t form. You want to scream, but vocal cords stop working. You want to speak with someone about what you’re going through, but the words seem to kind of freeze in your throat. All you’re left with is this roaring sound in your head and the words, “I can’t do this!”

Reality hits.

The days trudged by, and I did manage to somehow get my license to drive. All the days of practice with my husband, many driving school sessions and a couple of driver’s tests later, the miracle happened. I felt victorious when I held that license in my hand. I felt on top of the world, and then I made the mistake of looking down from that height. Reality hit me as I realized that as I was legally allowed to, I was actually expected to drive places, all by myself. And that’s when the panic button hit one more time. My husband tried his very best to motivate me, but the terror of it had paralyzed me …all over again.

A reason to move forward.

It took me two years to move forward, and the reason came in the form of my first bundle of joy, my little daughter and the lady who gave birth to me, my mom. My mom was the one who said, “I’ll take care of your little one, and you make sure that you can take care of her when I have to leave.” In retrospect, I guess that’s all I required to move myself to do something. I had to accept that if I wanted to be able to independently take care of my child here, I had to face my fear, no matter how strong the fear was and how weak I felt.

Baby steps.

It started with little baby steps, small trips to the nearest grocery store, and lead to bigger things like handling my baby’s doctor’s appointment, all by myself. Every little step that I took, seemed to push me ahead. Pretty soon, I was able to convince myself pretty quickly that I wasn’t anxious about driving anymore.

And then came the big setback.

It happened, the day I had been dreading all these years arrived. And it came so innocently that it caught me off guard. It was a regular morning and a regular visit to my daughter’s preschool. As I drove out of her school, I misjudged the oncoming traffic, and crashed straight into a car, with my daughter in the back and my mother-in-law sitting next to me. Though all three of us were shaken up by the event, thankfully, none of us were injured, not even the driver of the other car. But my nightmare of crashing my car came true.

Moving on again

If I say that I breezed through the next few days, I would be a big fat liar! It was horrifyingly painful and the image of the broken van is permanently etched in my brain. Not to mention the fact, that once I was in a condition to start driving again, I had to pass the same route every day, twice a day, for five days a week as I dropped and picked up my daughter from her preschool. It did not happen just like that. It took me months, probably years to gain my full confidence back. But, sometimes the only way you can get over something is simply by getting over it. You take one painful step after another, and before you know it, you look back, in awe, of the distance you have managed to travel.

 

The lessons learned

What I learned is what I’d like to pass on to my children and to anyone else who faces anxiety.

  1. Do not ignore or suppress your fears. Doing that just increases the size of your anxiety. It definitely does not make it go away.
  2. When you have decided that you will be facing your fears, do not listen to the negative self-talk that you will often hear. You will not fail at this. You will not look back and doubt yourself. You can do this and more, a lot more.
  3. Search and find your true motivation for walking past your fear. It can be for your parents or your friends. But it works best when it is for yourself. Your self-esteem and self-confidence are always the best motivators that you can find.
  4. Always be prepared for setbacks, as they will invariably make an appearance at some point in your life. Just when you think you have conquered this, life will take an about-turn. And when that happens, take a deep breath, begin the process of taking one step after another, and keep moving on.
  5. Whenever you feel down about how hard this is, try to visualize how it would feel when you look back one day from a place of strength and achievement. That day will come soon, even if things look bleak now.

 

If I say that my days of breaking into sweat are behind me, that would be another gigantic lie. Today, I drive all over the place, almost like I’m walking, and yet I’m aware that all it takes is one more episode of disaster and I may have to start all over again. And that’s completely alright with me. Real-life doesn’t offer happy-endings-forever. What it does offer, are repeated opportunities to conquer fears and experience those happy endings.

 

 

 

 

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An entitled race

There are many things that we want our children to do and even a bigger list of things that we don’t want them to do. Ask any child expert, and they can give you a big lecture on raising “entitled kids”. These are the types who think that the entire world revolves around them. The sun rises and sets at their beck and call and if they get bored of it one day, the rest of the world has to spend in darkness. But here’ s the big problem with this ….what exactly do we do about “entitled adults”? People are known to make mistakes, its in our genes to make and then learn from those mistakes. It is our own private battle, and we might win some of them and entirely miss the rest. But who has made us the moral police to judge and display another human’s mistake and have fun at their expense? Are we absolutely sure that we have never done one thing wrong? Or is it just that we lucked out that no bystander took a video of our blunder and then decided to post it in social media. An Indian family recently got caught making one such blunder in a hotel in Bali. I do not have to go in to any detail about this event. Just typing Bali Indian Tourist in Google gives you a big list of websites that goes into great details. Now, I do not support what they did and it was definitely an embarrasing situation for anyone. But what really irritated me is how someone else decides to make a video of their mistake and post it in social media. Now the family is being collectively berated in public, and what could have just been a private lesson has turned in to a drama of the worst kind. So let me ask this …who is the entitled adult here …the family that made the blunder, the guy who made and posted the video, every single person who reacted in shame, and probably even me …for judging those who judged the family in the first place. How do we not raise entitled kids, when we ourselves are up on some high horse, looking down upon some pathetic soul or the other? How do we teach our kids to respect another person’s private battles, when we ourselves find it so hard not to put our nose in another person’s business? What kind of an example are we setting for the future generation? If we can’t be kind to another human, even the one who makes mistakes, can we really expect the future generation to be a kind race? Children have a valid excuse for their behavior …they are a work-in-progress. What is our excuse?

Lies Galore

I was watching this ad on Facebook … about the little lies that we tell people, day in and day out just to avoid some trouble. Like we might tell our boss at work that someone in the house was sick and so we were late or didn’t come. A wife might tell her husband that the laundry guy spoiled his shirt when actually she was the one who did it. It reminded me of the time when I lied to my parents …or should I say hid the truth from my parents, that one of my contact lenses had broken …for almost an entire month. My explanation to myself …let me not spoil my vacation by getting yelled at by them. When the vacation gets over, I will tell them everything. So, I spent the majority out of my vacation with only one lens …being able to see only half of everything clearly. But just like all of my other fibs, this lie was about to get caught too. That is one thing that the Facebook video doesn’t mention. Lies always have a way of coming out. People who lie, always …almost always get caught, one day or the other. In my story, a fight that I got into with my little sister was my undoing. And then my dad, after a great deal of stern looks and booming voices later, looks at me, laughs and says …”you stayed with one lens for almost half a month, scared that I would yell at you. I probably would not have been this angry if you had told me in the first place”. And in my head I was thinking …Now he tells me!! In the heat of the moment, when you realise that you have committed some major blunder (well, at least it feels like a major one at that moment), you say the first thing that comes to your mind … which is usually a lie. I blame our fight or flight response, that is ingrained in all of us. After things have calmed down, you realise that you have just managed to make things worse by your lie, and you have no choice but to carry on with your lies. I agree with Facebook video …there’s more power and a lot of relief in saying the truth. I should know … after every single of my lies were caught by my parents …I would sigh in relief that I didn’t have to go through the pretence anymore. So, you can go ahead and correct all your lies now, or wait for destiny to correct it for you. As the great Jerry Seinfeld once said ….it all evens out one day.

It’s a dog’s life … hmmmm

Life is fickle … this fact has been proven by life over and over again … in all of our lives. With change being the only constant, it can get pretty disorienting at times. We carry on with our day to day life, unaware of the challenges that are right around the corner. But there’s always a theme to what happens to us. And that is balance. If we have been having a smooth journey, an obstacle seems to arise from nowhere. If we have seen nothing but road blocks in our journey, we seem to get a support system out of nowhere … just so we can cross these hurdles. We can’t get too happy or too miserable. We can’t get too angry or stay too calm. Life always seems to be one step ahead of us. And just when we think we have figured it all out, we are thrown yet another curve ball, in the name of yet another seemingly-never-ending challenges. So what can we do to get ahead of it … nothing really, except going with the flow. As I said before, there’s always a theme behind these problems that seem to come out of nowhere. There’s always a lesson we need to learn, or some growth we need to achieve. If there is a weakness in us, life will figure out a way to make us strong. If we are acting too strong or all high and mighty, life will figure out a way to bring us to our knees. If we pay close attention to the things happening around us, we can see a pattern emerge. And don’t even think about taking a shortcut or bunking life’s class …oh no …for life has a plan for that too. It’s something similar to us teaching a new concept to our kid. If they don’t learn it the first time, we repeat … and we keep on repeating till the concept is ingrained in their brain. So, unless we want to be nagged by life …by facing the same kind of challenges over and over again until our thick brain gets it right … we better listen to it the first time it shows us something. Then maybe, just maybe life will take some pity on us and give us some respite. As my little sister, once upon a time ,said to me …ye kutte ki zindagi hai. It maybe a dog’s life …and we can whine, moan and groan and deal with it …or face it head on and give it a piece or two of our mind …take it or leave it ….

Homework woes!!

I would like to start this post with a story. The story is about a guy called Bill …a skinny guy …a guy who likes a girl called Katelyn. Now this kid is about to start high school and decides to take a good and hard look at himself. He then takes a look at his other friends and decides that he needs to bulk up in order to look like his friends and also to impress Katelyn. So he starts going to the gym, eating healthy stuff like vegetables, fruits, chicken etc. Soon, this kid begins to notice that his hard work is paying off and that he actually has muscles. To complete the perfect picture, on the first day of high school, Katelyn comments on how good  he looks …and they live happily ever after. Talk about starting a journey for all the wrong reasons. But the best part is not over yet. The above story, masquerading as a homework assignment, is resting in the homework folders of elementary school children. It doesn’t matter which school or which neighborhood. The very fact that children are being  given these kind of homework assignments is scary to think of. Its hard enough to be a child, especially at the age, when they are still developing character and self-esteem. What does it teach a child when he reads a story that in order to gain his friend’s attention he has to look a certain way. I spent my entire childhood feeling miserable because of these kinds of body images. A girl should have a ‘model’ figure and a guy should build muscles. Whatever happened to being kind or funny or here’s a thought ….just being yourself!! It took me all of my childhood and a major portion of my adult life to learn the lesson that how you look cannot change how you really feel about yourself. It took me a lot of hard work and loads of patience to understand that I’m fine …just the way I’m. So what if I’m plump …so what if I’m skinny …I’m also a good friend, daughter, son, brother, sister, husband, wife …but mostly, I’m the best at being me. I have the utmost respect for all the teachers out there who are working so hard to build characters in our children. But all it takes is one homework assignment for all the hard work to go down the drain. The parent who shared this assignment with us was smart enough to know  and teach her child that there was something very wrong with this story. And if I ever got a chance to meet Bill …the first thing I would tell him is …if a friend likes you just for the way you look …run …run for your dear life …run instead,  towards the friend who likes you for who you are …whoever that may be…

Happy Birthday Nilima!!

The birthday reminder set in my yahoo mail buzzed yet again,  another year and for one another friend. These reminders usually set me in motion …and I start looking for some online birthday greeting so that I could send a message to another friend or relative and impress them with my, “memory”. Of course these are things of the past as now pretty much everyone I know is in Facebook and they do an amazing job of reminding us. So I have deleted most of these reminders …most of them except for one …one that rings every time in the third week of September, reminding me that one more year has passed since this person has not been in my life anymore. My best friend, and roommate for four years …Nilima. Common sense dictates that I should delete this reminder. I’m aware that she has moved on and this reminder just sends me on a track of pain one more time. But emotions have nothing to do with common sense. Deleting a birthday reminder brings a finality to the thought that I cannot see her face to face anymore. I cannot hear the sound of her voice on the phone and I cannot read the texts or emails that she has typed with her own hands. Deleting her reminder feels like deleting her memories and there were hundreds and thousands of them. My yahoo reminder states that she is turning 42 today, or she would have been turning 42, I remind myself. Grief has a funny way of growing over the years. In the beginning all it does is bring the stark reminder of your loss. Over a passage of time, it is supposed to heal …but what really happens is that it grows in to something else. It brings with it a bit of sadness followed by loads of those happy memories you shared with that person. Nilima’s birthday reminds me of those birthday parties we would have in our hostel. The room would be filled with high volume songs, chattering of a group of twenty / twenty five girls laughing, singing and dancing…but most importantly …would be filled with the fragrance of samosas, chips, pastries and other snacks. The birthday girl would be at the center of it …basking in the glory of simply being born on that particular day. So, I let my yahoo mail send me reminders every year just so that I can be transported back to those wonderful years that I spent with her.  Happy birthday to you once again Nilima!! I cannot tell you how much we all miss you, but you have also provided ample memories that we shared with you …fun memories to get us by as we go through the pain of being separated from you. I bet you are having a great party wherever you are, and I bet there’s lot of food surrounding you ….