I was born with a condition physicians refer to as congenital heart disease. I myself like to call it my unconventional heart. In the course of my life the two of us have become best friends. It’s my heart that reminds me each day that no day is for granted and so in a way I am thankful.
The crumpled ocean is no boat trip
Being reminded like that, however, doesn’t come for free. I know my condition to be tied to a certain risk that I carry in particular, which is, basically, the risk of dying. Or, to put it less dramatically, the risk of my state deteriorating at any minute; and nobody can tell me when this will be. So I just live with the vague certainty that it will happen one day.
Twice a year I go to my trusted heart center to have everything checked, always hoping to receive good news, meaning nothing has changed. Things have been stable for years and these follow-up exams are actually no big deal. But to me they always feel as if the physicians renegotiate my life.
So, as every year, my 2016 started off with the first one of these appointments a week ago. This time I found myself to be especially nervous and the day before the appointment I felt fear building up inside of me and sneaking into every corner of my being. With all my plans and dreams and new projects I have just started, suddenly so much was at stake. Besides, being aware of the fact that by some means or other I will have to face another surgery one day, I suddenly felt my time running out. And who knew? After all, I am approaching the 40, an age nobody had ever expected me to reach when I was born.
So here came the fear…
The clotheless wrestle with the clotheless animal
I’ve known for quite a while that it doesn’t help to suppress feelings. In fact, I have found it to be true that you might succeed in muting them for a while, but you cannot block them out forever. So what I tried was to accept my anxiety and acknowledge it as a part of myself.
And still there are these unpleasant physical sensations that come with being frightened.
The night before the appointment I couldn’t sleep. I felt agitated, my heart beating nervously in my chest, and all kinds of thoughts started to flood my brain, thoughts of bad things that might happen, of existential situations I might have to face and of all sorts of things that might just go wrong. I knew if I followed this train of thoughts it would bring me straight to panic land. So how to deal with this? How to finally calm down and get some rest? I probably don’t have to mention that none of the relaxation techniques I had learned once worked. What they helped me with, instead, was focusing even more on my body and all its creepy sensations.
My enemy, please stay close to me
Finally, when I was already way past the time at which falling asleep would have granted me a good night’s rest before the exam, tired of trying I just gave it up. It was like telling both my body and my mind that, fine, if they wanted to freak out freak out is what they should do. I wouldn’t bother objecting to it anymore. Which was, when, finally, I fell asleep.
It was only a couple of days later that I came across an article that described the handling of fears exactly the way I had done it. Apparently, accepting fear as a part of oneself can be much bigger than I had thought. Maybe it is more about embracing fear as a natural part of life that will always be there. And about surrendering to its presence without bowing down to its logic. In this light it seems only natural to also accept all the negative sensations and thoughts that usually accompany fear; and to, at the same time, take a look at them and recognize them for what they are: a natural consequence of being frightened. And to thus take your fears with you, but without letting them influence your moves.
I received good news at the heart center the next day. Everything appears to be stable and so I can relax for another half year. And oddly enough, one of my nurses told me how deeply and soundly relaxed she found me to be. And so for now I am happy.
I am an anxiety person. I have grown up this way, not least due to my unconventional heart. My fear has been keeping me company for as long as I can think. With every new step I take, at the beginning of each new project or endeavor, it is there, by my side. I take it with me. And yet, I have the feeling that we might get along. And that I will be fine.
Want to get a better idea of what anxiety feels like? See this amazing video by Meghan Rienks and Justin Coloma.