Looking back, I now understand that anxiety and insomnia had become closely associated in my mind. Since college, if I ever had trouble falling asleep at night (as happens to nearly everyone occasionally), it would cause me to worry a lot about whether my grip on happiness was slipping away.
Late in June last year, I had a couple instances of not sleeping well and the anxiety started. My daughter Sienna was about to start a new school. She’d begin Kindergarten in the fall but was going to attend the after school program at her elementary school for July and August. When the anxiety and sadness came on so suddenly, I realized that I’d been avoiding feeling anything about Sienna’s transition to a new school. In searching for answers to what was wrong, I reminded myself that I never liked change. This was a big change for our little family and deserved some of my emotional attention.
Over the next few days, I had several epiphanies in trying to explain this upheaval in my life. It occurred to me that I needed to be in the moment more and chill a bit on my incessant planning. However, when I got to work that following Monday, I felt completely lost. It was like someone took all of my coping mechanisms and through them out the window. I quickly decided that living “in the moment” was way too Zen for me. What was so wrong about planning anyway??
It also occurred to me that this turmoil may have been triggered by my mom having brought all my childhood keepsakes down just a couple weeks before. I went through boxes of items that made me reflect on my younger self. Two of the more poignant things I came across were my junior high poetry notebooks. It was really cool to see what I was thinking about life, myself, and the world at 13 and 14.
However, one poem made me cry and I returned to it several times during this bout of sadness. It’s entitled “Feelings…” and is written on a picture of a snowman:
Sometimes I feel like a snowman,
Cold and miserable on the inside but with a smile on my face
I know I have to smile, so others don’t worry about me
I have to look strong and keep pushing on
But after awhile it catches up with me, and I begin to melt.
There’s a certain sense to which we’re all the same people we were as a kid. It was an emotional experience for me to read words I’d written at 14 that seemed to speak to the truth I was experiencing nearly 20 years later. However, I knew that I was putting the smile on my face now, more for myself than for anyone else.
After a couple weeks of anxiety and trying to rationalize away my strong emotions, I finally realized that running from and suppressing my feelings was the problem. Trying to keep everything so planned, predictable, orderly, and controlled was really an attempt to keep myself from ever encountering a negative emotion. I decided (somewhere along the line) that “happy” was my only feeling and I could stay that way forever.
Feeling my feelings was my new mantra and it felt like I’d opened the flood gates.