Last week was awful. Absolutely horrible. And I thought it would never end. Every morning started the same way. I would get up, realize that I wasn’t going to work, and then I would suddenly become flooded with overwhelm. I would pace, thinking:
I don’t know what to do with myself. Everything is so messed up, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
And then I would start sobbing hysterically, working myself up into an anxious lather. To deal with that, I would call someone. I had a rotation of about four or five people who knew what I was going through. They would listen patiently as I lamented over my state, Then, they would suggest many of the same things over and over.
“Have you tried any of your coping skills?”
“When is the last time you played your music?”
“Are you writing in your journal?”
“Get outside and take a walk. It will get you out of your own head.”
“Are you expressing yourself?”
“I am expressing myself, to you right now!” Didn’t they get it? I couldn’t do those things because I was too overwhelmed! I couldn’t possibly focus or concentrate on anything other than my circumstances! They must have never felt this way.
On one day, I was particularly distraught, and I called my boyfriend. “I feel stuck, and I am sick of feeling this way!” I was crying perhaps more hysterically than I had before.
He listened carefully, but he did not hesitate to share some stern advice. “You need to help yourself,” he said. And then he gave me two recommendations: that I meditate and take a walk every day. “If you do those two things, I guarantee that within the week you should feel better.”
I listened and agreed with what he said. In theory, those things should help.
“But will you actually do it? It’s not enough to just agree with me.” Because I didn’t want him to find me insufferable, I wanted him to continue to view me as a strong and independent woman, and because I was ready to try anything, I told him that I would.
And then I got off the phone and went on my walk.
I was in this vicious cycle. I was so anxious that I could not eat. Because I could not eat, I feared that I was not getting enough calories to sustain myself for any activities. So I would refuse to go out and do things, fearing that I would faint when I was out and about. But staying inside kept me anxious. Because I was struggling to get myself to eat much, the only way to break the cycle was to go outside.
“Just go around the block,” my boyfriend suggested, “if that’s all you feel like you can do.”
That was a small enough task for me to handle. If I just went around the block once, I would never be that far from my apartment that it would take more than a couple of minutes to return to safety.
Not only did I walk around the block- I walked around it twice. I learned that my body could handle it, and relieved, I was able to go inside and eat some lunch.
Every day, I made time for that walk. Whenever my body would start to feel particularly unsteady or jittery, I would go around the block, often times more than once. By the time I made it back to the steps of my building, I would find that the jitters and shakes were gone- they had been expressed. Then, I was able to go inside and focus on productive things, instead of magnifying every sensation in my body. I made a list of all the things that needed to get done, professionally and personally, and began to do them.
It really was as simple as taking a walk. It’s now been over a week since my boyfriend gave me that advice, and I am happy to say that he was right. I did start to feel better within the week. The day I spoke to him on the phone was the last day I cried. I needed him to remind me that the power was in my hands.
A couple of days ago, I came across this Mary Oliver poem that resonated with me:
“I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.”