I Can’t Imagine the Ocean.

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.

ocean shore stock xchnge



About Cindy Reed

I hate pants.
This entry was posted in First World Problems, I am the weakest link. Goodbye.. Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to I Can’t Imagine the Ocean.

  1. I’ve never been able to meditate either. I wouldn’t say it’s anxiety, but I can relate to having a stream of consciousness that is more like white water rapids than a babbling brook.

  2. Michelle says:

    I am sorry you are anxious..anxiety is a dick..but you’ve written SO WELL about it.

    I am not good at the guided imagery thing either.

  3. I’m supposed to be doing that too. I stumped my therapist when my place was next to a still river and I liked it precisely because it was so quiet. So when she wanted me to concentrate on the sounds, there wasn’t much to concentrate on. Sorry for your little men. They’re assholes.

  4. Anne says:

    Wow. You nailed it.

  5. Christina says:

    i get this anxiety thing but only when there’s too much going on at once– like when i’m trying to drive and my husband is talking to my dad who’s in the back seat farting around with my 4yo who forgot about her indoor voice because my dad is full blooded Italian and SUPER loud… i can’t focus. on anything. until i scream for everyone to just shut the hell up. i mean, really. but i don’t get the stomach thing thankfully (probably cuz i just stuff down as much food into it as possible). sorry you do. and sorry you feel like drowning.

  6. jenbrunett says:

    And that is why god invented Dr Vodka. lol Seriously though, I have never tried to visualize an ocean or anything calming when my kids are acting up. I usually have to leave the room or something. I’m a big anxiety sufferer, too and I can’t mediate very well on my own either. Guided mediations have always worked for me better, though.

    • The Reedster says:

      I’m supposed to be working on “changing my reaction” to my triggers. Like the kids losing their shit. In the moment thought? Yeah, that seems like I’d need to literally be the Buddha.

  7. O girl. I can totally relate to this. Your tummy men and their nails have relatives that live in my abdomen. Can you tell your guys to come get my guys? Sometimes the only way I can still my shaky spirit is to take a walk. I don’t want to. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate it, but when I put on my headphones and pipe in some perky music (with an empowering edge) the little men in my tummy take a brief nap. A brief one, but it is something. I think the meditation gurus have got it all wrong. Meditation is the act of trying to still one’s mind, not actually doing it. Because, I’ve never met anyone who could actually do it. Never.

    • The Reedster says:

      I love to walk – it’s so much easier for me to clear my brain if I’m moving. But can you believe I broke my freaking foot? So no dog walking for me until the end of June. Just the tummy men and the racing mind.

  8. Whitney says:

    Completely swamped in anxiety here, too. Just yesterday, in fact, I had a public meltdown at work in front of two coworkers. What is it about spring and nice weather that’s making me feel so crappy, I wonder.

    • The Reedster says:

      I feel like I was promised better mental health when the SAD went away but it didn’t happen. I want to know who to blame for this. And yes, I’ve cried in front of at least three teachers in the last week.

  9. Joanna says:

    awwwww- that’s a shitty feeling- well written (and funny) description of anxiety. Lobotomy’s help….but they come with complications- like an inability to compliment artwork!

  10. My heart goes out to you. I’ve been there, and it sucks. I have to say, your ability to capture this failed therapeutic moment is stunning.

    Oh, and “I’m good at tapping. I tap my foot on the floor all day long. It’s my cardio.” Hahahahaha!

  11. about100percent says:

    The overwhelmingness of it all is crushing. I know that so well. We find our way out of it, somehow. You’re making progress, and it’s good.

  12. This was fantastic, loved it.

  13. Tapping, like, tap dancing? Did she tell you to bring a top hat and a cane next time?

  14. Lance says:

    I related to every word. I wrote similarity, today. Now, I want to be in that ocean…immediately.

  15. it takes practice.. don’t be too hard on yourself. i have tried guided imagery too, but personally, it doesn’t work that well for me. instead, i meditate on a prayer or a psalm that gives me comfort. i have it memorized, so when i am feeling anxious, i focus and breathe all my energy into reciting the psalm, and trusting in God to take away the anxiety. sometimes, i play a song in my mind, because music is really powerful and always calms me.

    everyone is different, so it’ll take time to see what works for you. but i think over time, you’ll find ways to battle the anxiety and agitation. it may be a larval stage, but it’s a start. =)

  16. joyvox says:

    I have a monkey mind the size of Texas cavorting around in my head. Constantly. So I numb out with the interwebz and tv too much. When my four kids were little, it was better because they kept me busy. Now with two out of the house and the other two doing their own thing, there’s still too much to worry about and not as much to do. I hear tapping is pretty great, though! Maybe I need to start…

  17. C.C. says:

    I enjoyed the way you wrote about this and I can totally relate. My brain is a constant thrum of racing thoughts too….a cacophony of noise that is impossible to shut off. Conjuring up the beach does not do a damn thing for me either.

  18. nikkiana says:

    It’s funny that you should write this today and I should stumble across it because I did a very similar guided meditation today in therapy… Only substitute beach for bed. I had mixed feelings about the exercise… Visualization style meditation is still kinda weird to me.

    Meditation in general has probably done more to alleviate my anxiety than anything else I’ve tried, though. It’s super uncomfortable at first and you’ll have yourself convinced that you’re doing it wrong, and your skeptical monkey mind is going to pitch many fits because it’s not used to being told to STFU…. but it’s worth sticking with and trying out different techniques.

    Hmm… I should probably write a blog post about this.

  19. Shailaja /Doting Mom says:

    I have always wondered how people do guided meditation. It is so damn hard! I always end up focussing on the exact opposite of what they ask me to think about!

  20. wcdameron says:


  21. wcdameron says:

    This was so well written. Emotional, funny, sad. An ocean of emotions in one post. Good luck to you my dear friend.

  22. Caroline says:

    I love this Cindy! A universal struggle ~ The therapist ought to meet You in the rip tide before she attempts to have You wiggle Your toes in the sand. Swim parallel to the shore!

  23. Damn… Lost for words, but letting you know I was here.

  24. innatejames says:

    I’m an anxious person as well. What helps me is guided breathing exercises–breathe in for 6, hold for 6, breathe out for 6, hold for 6, repeat. Sorry for giving unsolicited advice; but it’s in the spirit of letting you know there are other options. And that you’re not alone. You captured this situation with grace and wit and objective honesty. Not an easy thing to do!

  25. Natalie DeYoung says:

    It’s haaaaard. Hard to be peaceful, to imagine better when we’re drowning.
    I feel like I am trying to pull myself out of the surf again and again.
    As always, wonderfully captured.

  26. outlawmama says:

    No way can I still my mind either. Especially not with the ocean. Love the image of the fractions and your bickering kids.

  27. Christine says:

    Yoga helped me, when I had time to do it. The hard part was the end, where you lie still and try to empty your mind. That’s when stuff started to creep back in. (It’s also the part where I started thinking about how hungry I was, because my yoga class was 5:45-7:00 pm and I was pregnant.) So maybe this is not where you find peace. Another friend recommends a punching bag. Something about the mental distraction coupled with the physical release of tension. There are definitely days when I wish I had one… Great post, Cindy.

  28. ace1028 says:

    This is SO so good. So much so. I am a therapist and guided imagery is hard for me. But I do find that I’m able to help people do it if we’re on the phone, though. Maybe that would work, fewer distractions? Or maybe they’re totally pretending they get it. I can’t see them!

    I’ve tried to meditate so many times it’s practically funny … but the frustration isn’t and is so real! And I see Christine commenting about yoga, which I loved when I took it – so something more “active” might work for you.

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s the best thing I’ve read in a while.

  29. jolizie says:

    I love guided imagery, but will admit it’s hard. Far to often I try to imagine a soothing ocean wave only to find myself drowning in a tsunami.

  30. Linda Roy says:

    Ah, perfect last line Cindy. I’m like that too. I’m the person who tries to meditate and thinks to myself “clear your mind of all thoughts. Don’t think of anything. You’re still thinking…”. Or gets a massage and thinks “relax. RELAX. You’re not relaxing. Only 10 minutes left, relax. Why did she skip my neck? Should I say something?”. It’s exhausting. Monkey mind. Loved your line about the little men not hurting their feet. Definitely not fair.

  31. The Reedster says:

    Thank you everyone for your responses to my post. I’m currently worrying about my dog’s limp, what time I need to leave to make it to the doctor at 8:15, and my fifth grader’s missing spelling packet. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in weathering the anxiety, and that some of you have found relief.

  32. Kathy Berney says:

    Wow. You are in my head. Not to be a bummer, but I’ve tried tapping and it hasn’t gotten me off my meds.

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  34. Jenn from Canada says:

    I use primarily TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) for an auto-immune disease. The disease is triggered by anxiety most times. My TCM doc told me to go ahead and meet the panic attack head on. Forget about trying to make it go away. It’s the ‘trying to calm yourself down’ that makes it drag on and on. Fully get into it, cry like an f’ing mad woman, curl up in a ball. Let it happen and happen big. TCM believes that emotions must be released and that if they are, the relief is instant. It works for me when I have the opportunity to let it happen. Hope you find out what works for you..it’s an agonizing thing to deal with.

  35. “This was so hard it merited uptalk.”

    This speaks volumes. And not in uptalk.

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