Tuesday, January 20, 2015

True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

I have always suffered from mild anxiety difficulties. I'm a type A personality that strives to get stuff done, do it well, and beats herself up if it's not done with utter perfection. I'm quick to feel devastated by the smallest corrections and worry endlessly about, often enough, things I have no control over. This has been something I've dealt with nearly my entire life but it increased over the past two years. I began having panic and anxiety attacks. They were world-stopping. I would feel that I couldn't breathe properly, my heart would race, I couldn't move, and everything was closing in on me.

Two years ago, they came occasionally and while I thought "I need to seek help about this," I didn't. I was "too busy" and I didn't have the money to pay for therapy. I left that job and the poor health insurance I had there and started a new job with better insurance. The attacks began to pick up. The pressure at my new job, being something entirely new and finding that I had more control over my own destiny at work than I had ever been given before, doubled by full control and expected knowledge of the position I had, heightened my anxiety. My own book blog, even, was triggering panic. Class work, friendship drama, deaths in the family all contributed to this. By this past summer, I was suffering from multiple anxiety to panic attacks multiple times a week.

My work was suffering -- I often had to leave my office, slipping away so no one noticed, so that I could panic in the privacy of a bathroom stall or at the nearby park. My relationships were strained -- every Sunday as I would say goodbye to my beau and head home, I would be reduced to an anxiety-ridden mess. I knew what occurrences and general thoughts brought on the attacks and I knew they were ridiculous and not worth the upset. But knowing that and getting your body to react appropriately are two different things. It's like a possession -- you know your normal thoughts, the expected way to react, and that the events you are panicking over aren't worth panicking over... but your body is possessed. The "demon" has control over it. It makes your body break out into a cold sweat, your heart rate go faster and faster, tears leak from your eyes, and your emotions take complete control.

By the end of July I had enough. I began searching for psychologists in the area because I simply did not want to live that way anymore. I have many friends and family members who have sought therapy for depression and anxiety and had good results. I had faith that this could help me. Beside that, I was going to many other doctor appointments to check my levels and was diagnosed with IBS, which can throw you all out of whack. But changing my lifestyle, changing my diet, wasn't working fast enough and I was determined to get control over the demon that is anxiety.

Right away, my doctor latched onto my love for books and suggested some reading to do outside of the office. Her first suggestion was True Refuge by Tara Brach, a local (for me) psychologist and Buddhist. She follows the idea of mindfulness and has penned many a self help book.

Not being religious, but open to spirituality and different religious ideas, I was down to learn about mindfulness and give Tara's book a try. So, let that be the precursor: I went into this knowing very little about Buddhism, psychology, mindfulness, and anxiety. I went into this not knowing how to care for my own anxiety nor how much it really affected myself and those around me.

There is a lot of story telling in this book. I feel, with self help and teaching ways to handle emotional situations and health, this is a great way to provide the lesson. I'm a person that learns through visuals and reading the different struggles that Tara wrote about -- patients and friends who suffered, her own health experiences, and so on, allowed me to not only see how becoming mindful helped to benefit these people, but it served a greater purpose: it made me realize that the problems I had with anxiety were not problems of a sole individual. I was by no means alone and the thoughts, the feelings, and the seemingly lack of control did not in any way make me "broken" or "different."

I also learned it's something that I can gain control over.

While Tara referenced a lot of Buddhist ideas, none of which I fully understand, follow, or believe in, I feel someone who is familiar with Buddha's teachings would find these references beneficial. Still, I came out of the book feeling a little more sure of myself and with a better understanding of what anxiety is and that you are by no means broken for having anxiety.

There are also practices which Tara details in the book, often at the end of chapters, which can help curb your anxiety or other emotional struggles you may have. Tara has other works, a website, and seminars. I have not read her other work nor attended anything sponsored by her and I likely won't, as this book (and her beliefs) are more religious than I intend to dive into. But that doesn't mean the book is unhelpful, as it certainly made me feel better about my situation and gain hope of getting better. It, at the very least, gave me a greater understanding of all that had happened and could happen and for that, I'm so grateful to have been urged to pick this book up.

Last Week's Review: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Next Week's Review: Taking Woodstock by Elliot Tiber

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