Fourteen years ago I found myself with a diagnosis: panic disorder.
I was having up to 25 panic attacks a day. Many days, I spent more time in a state of acute anxiety than not.
The thing about diagnoses is that they suggest a whole bunch of stuff that may or may not actually be true for you in any given moment. You get a diagnosis, Google it, and suddenly you have 10 new symptoms. Suddenly you have a prognosis and your future feels a bit less free and uncertain than it used to.
Diagnoses seem stable because we’re told that they are. They look like real, living constructs with highly reliable symptoms, outcomes, and assumptions.
My well-trained, well-meaning therapists told me that I’d probably always have problems with anxiety. My professional prognosis was: “We have some hope that the panic attacks will subside, but you’ll have to find ways to cope with your anxiety forever”.
I believed that because I didn’t know better.
With my “highly anxious person” title, all sorts of memories flooded to mind. I remembered the twitches that started twenty years prior, when my parents got divorced. A-ha! Proof that I had an anxious predisposition, even back then!
I remembered how I’d feel instantly sick when my mom brought a new boyfriend to the house. Those must have been early panic attacks! And how—when she was out– I would stay up all night worrying that she had been in some kind of accident, wondering which nutty relative my sister and I would end up living with.
As soon as the “anxious person” label was in place, I found a ton of evidence to support it. I called it “connecting the dots” back then, because when you’re pretty sure that your label is accurate the past looks like a sea of confirming evidence.
It was all very innocent. I was innocent, my therapists were innocent, the DSM-IV (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that psychologists use to diagnosis people) was innocent.
But we were all misinformed. There is a completely different truth that I simply wasn’t aware of at that time. Had I known what I know now, things would have been very different.
How it Looks Now
We are fluid, always changing spiritual beings living a human, thought-created experience.
The boundaries, labels, and traits that we innocently attach to ourselves and carry around with us are nowhere near as fixed as we believe they are.
The truth is, what we feel and experience is only what is on our mind in that very moment. After that—in each and every new moment—the slate clears.
You know that feeling when you wake up in the morning and you feel good…until you remember that you have problems? You remember last night’s fight, or yesterday’s binge, or that you don’t like your job.
That clear, peaceful feeling you wake up with is YOU. That is home base. It’s your natural, default state.
Then you innocently drag old thought in, covering up that peace of mind with memories of what already happened or projections of what is yet to come.
We have peace available to us in any moment but we cover it up with thought and mistake that personal thought for who we are.
I did that every day with my panic “disorder”. I woke up feeling fine, reminded myself that I was sick, and then wondered why I felt sick.
I’d feel a little natural-and-totally-harmless-nervousness and tell myself it was the beginning of a horrible panic attack. Then I wondered why I kept having panic attacks.
I’d be at peace, enjoying a much deserved break from anxiety, only to drag myself back to reality. Except the “reality” I dragged myself back to was not reality at all. It was only my thinking about what I thought my reality was.
I had it all backwards. My state of mind was being constantly renewed, fresh in each moment. But because I carried my past, my diagnosis, and what I thought I knew about myself with me all the time, I never got to enjoy that clean slate.
For what it’s worth, my therapists were wrong. I have nothing to cope with today because I see now that anxiety is nothing more than anxious thought that flows freely.
It’s not that I don’t sometimes feel anxious; it’s that I don’t worry about it when I do so it passes quickly, the way it is meant to. And because I know about the innate mental health that lies beneath thought, I can easily relax into it.
You are far less stable than you think you are, and that’s a very good thing. What you think about yourself and your condition is only what you think. Loosen your grip on those beliefs and truly, anything is possible.