My anxiety lately has reached danger to society levels. To stop the agitation, I decided to try guided imagery.
I’m a skeptic who wrestles with racing thoughts. My brain is a constant thrum of past, future, and present; a needle skipping across the hard drive of my life. I am, in short, the worst candidate to calm myself using the power of my stilled mind.
The therapist began. “When you experience anxiety, where do you hold it in your body?”
“It would be easier to describe where I don’t. Right now? In my gut, my shoulders, my throat.”
“Let’s start with your gut. Think of yourself as a compassionate observer of your body. Describe, without judgment, the physical sensations you’re experiencing.”
“Well, it’s like little men are walking on a bed of nails. Except the nails are turned inward, so when the little men walk they poke the nails further into my intestines. But they aren’t hurting their own feet at all, which doesn’t really seem fair.”
She continued. “Think of a place where you feel calm, without anxiety.”
This was so hard it merited uptalk. “Um, the beach?”
“What is it about the beach that calms you?”
“The waves are so loud they drown out my brain. The water goes on forever. It’s like a gateway between real life and make-believe. You have options.”
“Would you like to go to that beach right now?”
“My family doesn’t like the beach. Also I can’t. I have to drive for a field trip and bring the dog to the groomer. And I was trying to cut a tag out of a sweater that cost $70 and I never spend $70 on sweaters and I cut a little hole in it and I have to sew that up before it gets huge and –” I started to cry, anxious about the fate of the not-yet-ruined Urban Outfitters sweater.
“We’re going to imagine your beach, so you have a place to go when you get anxious. A coping tool.” She turned on a sound machine. The room filled with crashing waves and squawking seagulls.
“What does your beach look like?”
“I mean, I can see an ocean, but I know it’s not real.”
“Use all your senses. Taste the salty sea breeze. Squish your feet into the wet sand. Are you on that beach?”
“Um, not really. I like the ocean sounds though. But I know they’re just over there. You could unplug them.”
I started to cry again, anxious because I couldn’t put myself on my beach. She abandoned the imagining. “Let’s just concentrate on the sounds then.”
After an hour, she said she thought we had made some progress and that next week we’d try tapping. I’m good at tapping. I tap my foot on the floor all day long. It’s my cardio.
I packed up my larval stage coping mechanism and headed for home. One daughter was melting down about dividing fractions; the other losing her shit because we didn’t praise her art in the exact same way we praised her sister’s.
I tried to conjure up my beach. Nothing. Not one goddamned crashing wave. I wanted to scream: “EVERYBODY SHUT THE FUCK UP! I AM TRYING TO IMAGINE MY PEACEFUL BEACH HERE PEOPLE!”
But fractions required reducing and artwork needed sufficient admiration and the little men continued to pound their abdominal nails and the only ocean I could imagine was the one I was drowning in.