Floating down the river of healing

Have you ever been held back from doing something you love? Something simple? Something that so many others around you could enjoy without a worry? For me, that thing was spending a day kayaking in the beautiful Florida rivers. Nature, peace, the chirping of the birds, the clear blue sky above me, and the soothing movement of the river carrying me effortlessly down its well-carved path. But the hindrance? A bout of anxiety that persisted for a year after the passing of my dad. It’s crazy to think that I would feel anxious about doing something so relaxing, right?

But what I’ve come to learn is that anxiety has nothing to do with logic. You can’t just rationalize it away. You need to find and face the underlying message and deal with it. With love and with patience.

There were two main things giving me anxiety during this time: driving over bridges, and the fear of being hungry and not having the right food around. Allow me to explain the latter. My dad had been a diabetic for a few years, something that he initially kept to himself. In the months before we received his leukemia diagnosis, he had some spells of sweating and foggy brain, which seemed to be attributed to low blood sugar. You see, he never really learned how to manage his diabetes. No one taught him how to eat to keep his blood sugar balanced. He didn’t know how often to eat, how to combine foods, or to even expect certain symptoms for low blood sugar. The struggles with managing diabetes only became more apparent with leukemia now thrown into the mix. Sometimes I couldn’t tell which was the true culprit, although I realize health isn’t so black and white.

I remember clearly one day we returned home from a doctor appointment, and we walked through the garage to get inside the house. The light in the garage was off. The garage door was closing. Suddenly my dad felt weak and told me he thought he would collapse. I stood behind him, ready and waiting, and he slowly fell into my arms and we sank carefully to the floor. We laid like that for a few minutes until he felt his strength return and he was able to get back up. But this wasn’t the only time something like this would happen. And someone wasn’t always with him. Sometimes he was alone.

In retrospect I believe I developed some medical and health fears after my dad passed. I got this idea in my head that maybe I was diabetic and suffered from low blood sugar. If I didn’t get enough substantial food at the right time, I would get dizzy and start to feel panicky.

I would feel a wave of fear course through me. Would I pass out? Would someone have to take me to the hospital?

I’m not sure that I ever even felt actual hunger in these moments. It was all in my head. As a result of this, I couldn’t leave the house for more than an hour or two at a time. Even if we were surrounded by restaurants and grocery stores wherever we’d go, it wouldn’t do any good. I needed to be in control of my options. I needed the right food to keep my blood sugar in check. Of course I never checked it. I never saw a doctor. That would mean potential proof. And that would be even scarier.

So what did I do? My therapist helped me realize that what I was feeling was anxiety. We use the term “anxious” all the time to describe how we feel when we are worried or nervous about something. But anxiety like this is really quite a different ball game, and it was new to me. Well I quickly realized I couldn’t stay shut up in the house forever, not with my zest for life and thirst for new experiences. So I used my planning prowess as a crutch. If I had to leave the house, even if only for 30 minutes, I’d bring snacks. Lots of snacks! Meat sticks, Mary’s Gone Crackers, mixed nuts. Those were my go-tos for months. Gone for more than a couple of hours? Well this was mostly unheard of, but if it was the case, I might just pack a small picnic.

Around this time I had also begun my health and life coaching education and to my delight, one of the first topics we started learning about was how to balance blood sugar!! WOO! All my problems would be solved, I thought. And while it wasn’t quite that simple, as new habits take time to form, and perhaps I didn’t even have a blood sugar problem at all, a lot of the techniques actually did help me. I started to focus on eating more filling foods to keep my fiery metabolism satisfied, combining protein, fat, and fiber in each meal. I gauged how long I could go between meals, and how just having a little snack could hold me over a bit more. With this awareness on my eating habits, I also tuned in to my body’s natural hunger cues. I found myself slowly now able to eat out of actual hunger, and not just fear or anxiety.

There was a lot more that went into this healing process, most of which I already shared in an earlier post on my fear of crossing bridges. In summary I had to face the questions that were left by my dad’s passing. Questions of what it all meant, and why it had to happen, 

For ultimately this anxiety emerged after the subconscious realization that all I had known of safely and love and acceptance in my life had vanished.

It took time to reestablish my safety and comfort in this new world without him physically here. I had to confront these difficult questions to make sense of it all. But I had to be ready. I had to be ready to heal.

And so with you today I share that this weekend I hopped in a kayak and made my way down the Weeki Wachee river. Something simple. Something so many others can enjoy without a worry. Me included.

Your Turn: What is something you’ve been longing to do, and what’s holding you back? Can you relate to irrational feelings fears caused by anxiety? Leave us a comment.

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