Removing Labels (and Self-Judgment)
Over the last couple of years, I have found myself, on occasion, experiencing what can only be described as panic or anxiety attacks. Sometimes they are mild – just a general nervousness or heightened “awareness” of what is going on around me; other times, they are near-paralyzing, to the point where I experience tremendous fears, crying, and unable to move from the emotions for anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half at a time. Back around the time I had surgery and was in rehab in 2012 (before, during, and for about a year after), I found myself experiencing these almost daily; now it is down to between about two and four times a week, at most (hey, progress is progress). So it was a bit of a surprise to me that for the last four mornings in a row, I have woken up in that panicky/anxious state – with this morning being the worst of the four, by far.
In my therapy appointment this morning, I found myself in tears saying I didn’t understand why I was so panicky lately. I’ve become much more able to identify my triggers, even if it’s after the panic has passed, which helps me to understand “why” these are happening; but these last four mornings, I couldn’t explain it. My inner critic told me I was backsliding and falling back into depression and anxiety. I knew there were a lot of changes occurring in my life, and a lot was being triggered as a result of starting the EMDR last week and also significant shifts in my support system, but in my mind that didn’t explain the intensity or extremity of these panicky moments recently.
What my therapist asked me to look at was what loops, judgments, or labels were coming up as a result of this panic and anxiety. I answered: Failure. Weak. Stupid. Never going to get anywhere. Loser. Loner. Stuck. Everyone else has their “stuff” together; I don’t.
Then he invited me to consider what it would be like not to have those judgments of myself. What would it be like if I could just accept myself? What if I could remove the labels, and be compassionate to myself? What if I was doing better than I actually thought – maybe even better than, or at least, other people my age?
Wow, what a concept that was! I mean, it’s so simple, but . . . for me, someone who has been a perfectionist and judging myself as a failure (in various ways) since I was a child, this was a profound epiphany. And what my therapist also reminded me of is that it’s not about making these tremendous leaps and bounds to get where I want to go. He reminded me that when I’m in the middle of a wave of emotion or self-judgment, and it seems like I’m swept into the sea, I can’t see the shore and it feels like it’s so far away; but it’s really and truly a matter of small shifts and consistent awareness that will get me to shore. He emphasized the idea of consistent awareness; this is not an overnight process.
This epiphany definitely helped in the moment, and lessened the anxiety that had arisen this morning. Of course, I experienced it again (intensely) tonight, and was not as easily able to get to that peaceful space so quickly. But I now have a better understanding, and a healthier point of view to begin to embody.