“I’m so afraid. Please, god help me. I fear I’ve made some terrible mistakes and that I am somehow heading for a disaster of huge proportions.”
Believe it or not, these are the first few lines of a recent journal entry of mine. When I wrote this, I was battling an episode of fear that was so crippling, I could not go 5 minutes without feeling intense panic and a sense of doom. Given my reputation for optimism and my ability to find learning in every challenging experience, many might find it hard to believe that I would be capable of going to such a dark place. Thankfully, I can recall only a few times that I have felt like that in my life, but nevertheless, under certain circumstances I have found myself in the grip of a fear so unbearable, it made me question my worth, my choices and everything I believe in.
If I were to explain how I got to that place, I would have to say that it seems to be set off when I perceive that there is some threat to my ability to meet the basic human needs of my family (food, shelter, etc.). This must be a very deep core issue for me because, In almost any other situation, I am a pillar of strength and yet when this issue is triggered, I somehow develop an irrational fear-based thought process around it.
If you have ever felt this kind of fear, and I’m guessing most of us have at some point in our lives, it is important to understand that, even though we do not want to encourage fearful thoughts, we must also recognize that when these “dark nights of the soul” do happen, they are a necessary part of our process of self discovery. In my case, even though I felt quite powerless at the time, there was still a part of me that was able to view myself and my thoughts objectively and try to assess what was going on for me emotionally. But I was still caught in a “thought loop” because there were very real circumstances that needed to be dealt with and I had no idea how to fix the problem. Every time I succeeded in distracting myself from the negative thoughts, the reality of the situation would become obvious, once again, and I was sucked back into the pit of desperation.
Over two weeks passed before I was finally able to regain my power and change my thoughts, but my rational mind was reminding me all along that the more I allowed myself to indulge the fearful thoughts, the more I was reinforcing them and giving them power. I knew I was attracting more of what I did not want, and because I was able to recognize this, it gave me the strength I needed to keep trying over and over to reject the fearful thoughts and eventually come up with a plan to banish them entirely. And this is really the key here. The reality of the situation has not changed but my perception of it has. I can now think the same thoughts that would have made me panic a week ago and still feel calm and in control.
It is remarkable. I would even say it’s a miracle!
“Please help me. I need a miracle. Show me the way. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I don’t want to be in the dark anymore. Please help me find the light and stay there”
So, what changed?
Well, first, I wrote that journal entry which ended up consisting of over 2,000 words by the time I was done. That was on a morning when I woke up and the panic started the moment I opened my eyes. I knew I could not get through the day unless I did something and the only thing I could think of was to write. I was hoping it would purge the feelings and make me cry. I needed to cry so badly but I had not been able to for weeks.
“I wish I could cry and unlock all of this terror, but I can only seem to manage a few stray tears that leak out. What I feel inside is like a dam that is ready to burst, but its so strong and immoveable right now. Maybe, on some level, I worry that if I let it go, I’ll completely fall apart.”
As I wrote, I allowed myself to verbalize all the most horrible thoughts that had been going through my head. I blamed and berated myself for every choice I had ever made. I told myself that I was being punished for all my mistakes and I called myself every bad name in the book. Reading it over now, I realize that I had to get out in the open all the secret things that I blamed myself for and had never really acknowledged. It all seems ridiculous now, but when I was in the darkness, I really believed it.
Then, I questioned how I could have made such mistakes, been so foolish, stupid, selfish etc. I questioned my motives and my beliefs and where they had got me. And next came the apologies. I said sorry to everyone for every thing I had ever done. After that, I began to ask what I could do to make it right again and realized that I had to forgive myself before I could move on.
By then, I had become calmer and it was then that I began to make statements about what I needed and wanted. I asked to feel better, for answers, miracles, understanding and growth. I asked for help.
When I was finished writing, I meditated for the first time in months.
That afternoon and the morning that followed, each of my two best friends visited me. We shared our pain and we wept together. I felt more honest and deeply connected to each of them than I have in over 35 years of friendship. I had been “broken open” and it allowed me to embrace our friendship and be present on an entirely new level. I was reminded of how we are all living through our own versions of hell at some time or another and that our suffering can take up so much of our precious time and energy if we let it. I felt such gratitude and compassion for them and for myself. I felt whole again.
Since then, I have continued to meditate every day. The problems I am facing are still there, but now they seem manageable. I am organized and productive again and I have regained my trademark Optimism (thank god!)
As horrible as it was to live through, I’m grateful for the experience. I feel stronger now and I have learned more about myself in the process. I realize that there is a deep psychological connection between my new role as a single parent and my experience growing up as the child of a struggling single mother and the learning continues...