The Houdini of Anxiety

I want to be the Houdini of anxiety.  To magically break myself out of an anxiety attack with a flourish and my own personal standing ovation.

In this very moment, I am having an anxiety attack of Biblical proportions.  My mental hands are tied behind my back, as I attempt to wriggle free of the onslaught of scary thoughts.  Today, I’m throwing a party for my little boy’s 6th birthday at home.  I will now attempt the super human feat of talking myself out of canceling the party and hiding under the covers for the rest of the day:

THE PANIC: My house is a wreck.  There is cat hair everywhere.  The floors have not been swept or mopped in so long I can’t remember.  The bathrooms are a filthy mess.

I am overwhelmed.

HOUDINI:  Of course your house is a wreck.  You are the only one in it who values cleanliness and order.  Your husband and child do not care. You have been unwell for a long time and doing the best you can.  Cleaning has had to take a backseat to make room for rest.  Just when you had enough energy to do anything, you went straight back to work 9 hours a day for the last five weeks (with children!) for the first time in years.  Exhaustion is a normal result.  It’s OK to be proud of that and encouraged that you are actually better.  It is not your fault you got sick and couldn’t work.  it is not your fault that your husband doesn’t really care if people know we live like this.  It is not your fault.

THE PANIC:  There are stains on the carpet that I would have never allowed to stay there if I weren’t going through such a deep dark depression (things are better now).  I know I need to clean them up, but there are so many.  Everything–every surface in my house–needs to be dusted.  My husband won’t do it.  He will if I ask him, but with a shitload of attitude that will piss me off.  I don’t want to be pissed off, so I need to do it myself.

I’m overwhelmed.

HOUDINI:  Carpet stains happen to everyone.  You have a child and a dirty husband who doesn’t give a shit.  You are doing the right thing by sending him out on errands, so you don’t argue.  It’s only anxiety that makes you feel so tense.  Not reality.  The reality is that you will clean things up.  The reality is that you can get this done and it’s not nearly as difficult as it feels right now.  The reality is that what is keeping you in a state of fear right now is only your brain trying to send you messages that are just not true.  You feel like a tiger is running to eat you.  It is not.  It is only a dirty toilet that you have cleaned a million times before.  It is only a carpet stain that requires a little scrubbing.  A surface that needs wiping down.  No tigers.  No bad guys.  Just messes.  No one is going to love you any less if your home is not pristine.

THE PANIC:  We are at $0 in our bank account (again) and our last credit card is nearing it’s maximum.  Our families have already loaned us money.  They are tapped out.  We still have to buy things for today.  Every purchase I make is a reminder that I am the one who has caused my family to be in this financial position.  I am the one who got sick.  I am the one who stopped working.  I am the one to blame.

I am overwhelmed.

HOUDINI:  In this moment, there is NOTHING you can do about your financial situation.  No one is to blame for you being sick.  This happened TO you.  You did not cause this.  In fact, you have done everything you can to get better, with very little support.  I am grateful for the help that our families have already shown us and for the help they are lending today.  I am grateful to have the friends that we have coming over to celebrate my sweet little boy’s birthday.  I still have this house.  We may have to sell it, but not today.  Not today.  I can choose to be happy today, even though things are not ideal.  I do that for myself.  I do that for my boy.  I do that, because I have a choice.  I have a choice.

Breathing…in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8.

It can be done.  It can be done.  It can be done.

11 thoughts on “The Houdini of Anxiety

  1. I get super anxious about house cleaning before company comes over too. I can totally relate to this. I’m usually popping Ativan before its all said and done. I’ve had to learn how to be ok with surface cleaning and letting go of the rooms that company wouldn’t go in. I used to deep clean everything. Progress not perfection.

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  2. ME TOO ME TOO ME TOO. Except it’s more “OMG we just moved and have to do a ton of work to get the front unit rented so we can pay the mortgage and OMG still have to unpack and have a yard sale and work too…”
    Also, I got sick too, and lost my job, and you know, money and all…
    I just really felt this post today. Houdini indeed. Let me know how to summon him.

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  3. Could you lend me Houdini for a few weeks, please? I promise to give him back! I just need him in my life to help me through some stresses right now too. Thanks for sharing, I liked this way of rationalising and you write about it on such a heart warming, entertaining way. Best wishes 🙂

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  4. To be fair, throwing birthday parties for children can be incredibly taxing. I was thrilled when my 8 year old has opted out of parties these past 2 years. That way we can ignore the carpet stains and lack of money (or choose to spend it on a nice gift and dinner instead.) Hang in there!!

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  5. This was a powerful exchange between your parts. And the breathing exercise is a good one too.

    I have another suggestion you might want to try. Have your conversation between the two parts moving back and forth between two pillows. Have one pillow for Houdini and one for your panic. Put them facing each other. Start sitting on the panic pillow and have her share her feelings and thoughts like you did above.

    After listening to panic for a bit switch to the Houdini pillow and have her say something like “I see how afraid you are. And I see how overwhelmed you . Let’s take a few minutes and breathe together right now. in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8. ” And afterwards say something like, “You did a really good job of breathing. Is there something I could say or do that will help you feel better right now?” And switch to the panic pillow to hear the response. Go back and forth. At some point from the Houdini pillow “Do you need a hug?” If panic says yes, then have Houdini pick up the pillow and hold her.

    You may need to address all the different concerns panic has, but often having her breathe and holding her close and letting her know you are there and will help her may calm her right down. And then together you can do the things that need to be done.

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  6. Mmmm…I have tried the Houdini thing too (of course not names as such) but it never works for me when I am in deep panic (I suffer from anxiety attacks too). In the past year, I have discovered one approach. Just allowing myself to panic. Telling myself that “it is ok to be scared” and letting the feeling stay for a while. I notice that it dissipates fairly quickly once given freedom to exist.

    But for each, her own…

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