Rhythms

imagesI’m a dancer, so rhythm is a huge part of my life, but rhythm is at the core of every human’s existence. Think about your heartbeat, the breath cycling through your lungs, the blood coursing through your veins. Rhythm is integral to life, and I’ve also found it to be very healing. Music, breathing exercises, dance, mantras, and massage are just a few of rhythm’s therapeutic forms. Rhythm grounds my everyday: having consistent rhythm to my life is very helpful in stabilizing my anxiety. This is not to say that I live a hyper-structured, repetitive, “Groundhog Day” type of existence; I believe flexibility, openness, and spontaneity are important parts of a fulfilling life. However, paying attention to my circadian rhythms– essentially, the pattern of sleeping and waking– and trying to fall asleep and wake at relatively consistent hours makes me feel calmer and more sane, even as my daily schedule varies considerably. This morning, the truth of all this caught up with me. I was awakened at 5 am by the wind howling around my house, massive gusts unlike anything I had ever experienced. The moon was full, and the trees bent and swayed wildly in the silvery blackness. I was terrified that one would fall on our house. To keep a long story short, I was awake from about 5:00-7:00 am, doing research, closing drapes and trying to figure out the most logical way to protect my mother and sister, who were asleep in their beds, without disturbing them. I was in work mode– I was intellectually scared, but not panicking. Eventually I decided that it was safe to fall back asleep. When I woke again, I had a sort of “wrong” feeling. I looked at the clock– it was after 12:30pm. I went downstairs and started to make tea, hoping that if I immersed myself in the day as quickly as possible the wrongness would go away, but instead it spiked. I got quite dizzy and felt like I couldn’t think clearly and went to lie on the couch. My mom offered to make me breakfast– so sweet of her– while I did breathing exercises and tried to calm myself. At first, I was frustrated that I hadn’t just pushed through and kept on functioning normally, and started worrying about how this was going to affect the rest of my day. Would I be able to leave the house? To go to ballet? Did this mean I was relapsing? I hadn’t had a real panic attack in awhile. Then I realized that perhaps this event wasn’t so random and terrifying after all. I had had a scary experience in the middle of the night, experienced the massive, brutal power of nature in a very real way. Perhaps my brain, immediately sent into work mode, had been to fatigued to process the emotional component of the experience, and had instead saved it for the following morning. This realization was very helpful. I now understood that I had experienced something scary, which my mind had pushed aside in favor of logical preparedness actions like research, checking the NOAA alert system, and filling water bottles in case of a power outage. Now, more rested and with the immediate crisis over, the emotional component took over, and my body freaked, caught off guard. I hope these kinds of associations will be helpful to you all. Just because you’ve been “doing better” and you have a panic attack doesn’t mean that you are back to square one. Progress isn’t linear! Remember that each moment of panic is an opportunity to react better, in a more constructive way– and even if you don’t handle it well, you’ve learned something valuable about yourself, have a new experience to analyze and draw from. In short, no matter what, you’ve survived, yet again. And the more times you go through those difficult, terrifying, uncomfortable feelings and sensations and come out the other side, the more you will reinforce the knowledge that they truly can only hurt you as much as you let them. S

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