I spent all of last week in Belize and took this photo at sea. Swimming is one of the few activities that usually calms and grounds me back into my body. Being completely present and not dissociated can be uncomfortable for me, I have a heightened startle response, I find people and things overwhelming. It’s often easier to lose myself and let myself slip away. Those closest to me can see it, I look more glazed over, my eyes are not as keen or sharp looking. I had some experiences in Belize with sea creatures that were actually looking at me. It’s sometimes easier for me to interact with non-human spirits … I’ll hopefully write a different entry on my Belize experience, but swimming and travel are so related to anxiety for me, that I thought it relevant to put in my weekly anxiety update.
There is something about being seen. Truly seen. Acknowledged. Looked at. You’re vulnerable, exposed, even if not naked. When someone is truly paying attention to you, wanting to know what you think, your emotions, touching you, seeing your reactions, just watching your physicality/you move through space, it can be very validating, empowering, comforting, terrifying… or a mixture of different experiences. Oftentimes with my anxiety I have two competing desires: I want to be heard/acknowledged/seen, but at the same time struggle to express myself, become embarrassed, and want to hide. I think I enjoy the sea so much because it forces me to be fully present: you can’t really talk to anyone when you’re snorkeling/swimming in strong currents, you can just “be” there… with other people, or other creatures, or just the sea, which sometimes feels welcoming or indifferent or annoyed by your presence, very much like a human. Here is a link to a video of an eagle ray that took some interest in me while I was out at sea by myself.
Though I am used to feeling overlooked, talked over, ignored… I don’t always want that, but it’s hard to get used to people wanting to know what you have to say in classes, at work, for example, and feeling pressured to always be “on” and sound intelligent. I did have an interesting experience on the long trek back to Pennsylvania. I often dissociate in airports and become overwhelmed, though I haven’t had a panic attack at an airport in a long long time. But while waiting 3 hours in an extremely large, loud, crowded waiting area by the gate … I found myself being fully present and comfortable in my body. I found myself fully awake, alert, comfortable, even feel good about being myself in that space with other people and when people passed near me my stomach didn’t drop when they brushed against me or came too close. I wasn’t even always reading or listening to music… I could just sit without distraction, with my thoughts and feelings, and I was ok. I don’t know if it was a mixture of the intoxicating combination of sun exposure and exhaustion… but I’d like to think it also had something to do with my beginning to read Radical Acceptance and really starting to think about/work on being accepting, ok, and loving toward myself as well as some of my trauma-related responses and how they lead me to make poor decisions. Like, feeling that it is unbearable that I disappoint/hurt someone by doing something that may be best for myself. Or immediately feeling used, worried, violated, after feeling close/intimate with someone as a sort of protective factor against them hurting me or abandoning me. Sort of like, push them away before they can push you away, or something. Or don’t let yourself get too attached. Anyway, I’m not even halfway through the book, but it has had more helpful practical advice regarding being present and non-judgmental with myself than any other book I have ever read… so that has been refreshing and helpful with my anxiety.
One recent instance that caused me great anxiety was having to report to a supervisor of a student’s absence in one of the classes I’m involved in. The student will have to repeat the experience. Now, I don’t know why that’s hard for me, to think about seeing this student next week. It is not my fault for their absence… and even if they are angry with me for relaying the information, I know I will survive and be able to handle it. But I also know that my body reacts in such a way that I become scared in the moment, can’t think straight, may tear up, and not be able to articulate myself. That’s what my anxiety does. I think it makes me look stupid, so I worry about handling situations badly because of my anxiety/trauma response, even if I go in with good intentions and a plan.