getting to know the new Michael Dahl and tinker with how he thinks

Yesterday, the morning sun shown brightly through the side windows of the yoga studio I was at.  I was sitting in Hero’s Pose several minutes before the beginning of class.  I was the only one in the room.  Silence.  My mind and my body just sat in the present.  I was aware of nothing.

And then I snapped out of it.  I became very aware of the man in the mirror.  One side of my face was lit brightly; a shadow was cast across the other side.

While the imagery of the light’s play on my face was cliche or cheesy, it completely captured my current state.  In just one moment … with that abrupt real and mental image … I focused on how much better my mental health is, but how far I had to go.

I am much more alive and active than I was a few months ago.  I am happier, and I engage in the world from much less of a reactive place than I had been in April and May.

I am able to read.  I enjoy music.  I exercise pretty much every day.  And my wife says I am “four thousand times better.”

This is cause for celebration … a realization that I have beat back Depression and greatly reduced the impact my bully named Anxiety has over me.

But I must admit.  While I am not depressed, I am frequently sad.

A shadow is still cast over part of me and my existence.

I am a new Michael Dahl.  This major bout with Anxiety and Depression has changed me.  And I don’t yet like good portions of who he is.  There are significant periods of the day when I don’t like hanging out with Michael Dahl.  He’s often agitated, snappy, frequently scared, and spends a lot of time being very angry.

I’m looking for the world to be fair.  But the world is not fair.

Now, as we all have opportunities to grow and learn, I am trying to learn who this new me is.  And then I am working to improve him / me.

I’m obviously playing with pronouns here.  It’s somewhat to make a point that my life seems divided between periods of calm and confidence and periods of fear and anxiousness.   But I also play with the pronouns because it seems the only way to capture that I have changed, and I don’t completely know who I am or who I will become yet.  That, in itself, is scary.

So, how have I changed?

While I have escaped the Depression, the relationship I have with Anxiety is simply a different one than the one I had before.

Anxiety used to sneak up on me.  It always began by sneaking up, freaking me out, completely jarring me away from a better place.

With the new me, Anxiety is always in my sight.  It doesn’t surprise me.  I see It.  I feel Its presence.  In fact, It stands lurking over me every morning.

I begin each day with a degree of fear.

I am constantly planning for how to outwit Anxiety.  Oftentimes I am successful; but often enough I am not.

I am working to find healthy ways taught to me by my therapist to acknowledge that Anxiety is my bully.  I am trying to just shrug my shoulders and not give it the power and reaction It is looking for.

But it is sad to begin each day scared.  It is exhausting to think myself through the negative orientation to a better place.

I know as I get to know this new Michael Dahl and the bully, Anxiety, that hangs out with him, things will get easier.  I will know the bully more completely and outwitting It will be easier.

But as my therapist tells me, at early age my brain formed to constantly be in survival mode, to always be in fight or flight.  The adrenaline-like chemicals of the brain that early humans used to access to escape woolly mammoths and lions were chemicals that my childhood brain unfortunately got seeped in a lot.  Now, they are a “natural” presence in my brain.  And I am left learning how to tell my brain to calm down.

That seems the oddest statement to me.  Our brains tell us what to do, how to react.  Now I have to access a part of the brain to tell another part of it … I guess … to tone things down.

This will become a learned practice.  I will get better at it.  Perhaps much better.  But as I referenced in an earlier post, my therapist has told me, it will likely never come naturally. She said, “It’s like taking up a new sport at your current age.  After hours, days, and months of practice, you’ll improve and look competent.  But you’ll never look like the pros who had the talents and skills seen and developed as young children.”

And so, while I am learning who this new Michael Dahl is, taking him to yoga classes every morning at 6 am to twist and rinse out the muscle stress that anchors his bad thoughts so as to calm him down, I’m also trying to draw out the parts of him I know I’ll like one day.  I am coaching him to calm down.  “Please, calm down.”

I want to like more of you someday.