This relaxing stuff is pretty cool. Now that I’ve learned how to take the edge off my sympathetic nervous system with focused attention, conscious breath, and intentional relaxation, my life is really amazingly chilled.
Never did I ever expect this to happen. I didn’t think I needed it to happen. I just figured, “I’m wired, I like being wired, and I’m always going to be wired.” And that was that. But no — now I have discovered ways to take the edge off, and now that I’ve been practicing, I’m finding that I actually enjoy taking the edge off.
Which is life-changing.
Lookit — I’ve spent my life in a state of heightened alertness and anxiety. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been on edge. And I thought I liked it that way. The edge pushed me to achieve and accomplish, to pile on undertakings and activities, to attempt to do things that intimidated others, to drive myself at full-speed, from the time I got up in the morning till when I lay down (exhausted) at night.
And I thought that was just my lot in life.
But now that I’ve found a new way of doing things — exercising first thing in the morning, and stretching and relaxing before I go to sleep — a remarkable transformation is taking place. Remarkable. Amazing. Nothing short of dramatic. I’m actually able to relax before I go to sleep. And when I wake up, I lie in bed for a little while before I get up. It was never that way before. When I was up, I was UP. When I was down, I was DOWN. There was no in-between. No happy medium.
And my nerves were shot — except, of course, when I was pushing myself to keep it together. Then I felt fine. I felt better, in fact. I felt like me. But it wasn’t me. Not entirely. It was my collected reactions and my responses to the demands (real or perceived) of the world around me. It was, in many cases, pure agitation an anxiety, plain and simple. An intensely focused attempt to Not Screw Up which was more about reacting to what I thought was going on, than acting in a way that created the kind of life I wanted to create.
When I think of how many years I lost to pure reaction… but I can’t dwell on it. It’s just depressing. And counter-productive.
Now things are different, though. They’re very different. Between working with my neuropsych and taking care of my health and fitness, and learning how to manage my para/sympathetic nervous system, I’ve been reconstructing my life skills from the ground up. Maybe “reconstructing” is the wrong word — how can you reconstruct something you didn’t really have? Maybe I’m actually constructing this, for the first time ever?
Well, whatever the word I choose, I’m remaking the way I’m living my life, and it is so, so cool. I mean, amazing. Taking the edge off my constant agitation, my sympathetic overload, and figuring out how to relax… it’s like a magic elixir. Except that it’s not. It’s built-in. It’s actually the way normal people live. And I’m discovering it for the first time in my mid-40s.
And how encouraging. One might think that after 40-some years, I’d be pretty much stuck in that old way of doing things. And to be honest, some days I give up all hope of ever turning things around. If this stress and drama and pain and anxiety is all I’ve known, how can I reasonably expect it to change, especially at this “late date”?
Well, it can. And I can reasonably expect it to change (as it has been) by choosing to make intentional, conscious changes to the way I live my life. Simple, basic changes that are such an interwoven part of how I live my life — like how I wake up, how I get up, how I structure my day, how I go to sleep — they seem, well, kind of rudimentary. And they are. But they’re the foundations, the building blocks of my life, and the more attention I give to them, the more they reward me.
A big part of the reward is physical. My autonomic nervous system is calming itself down… learning to calm itself down under my direction. And my body is stronger and more limber than it was a year ago. I’ve lost more than 20 lbs in the course of the past 9 months, and I’m keeping the weight off, AND my energy level is higher. All of this reduces the agitation, the anxiety, the insomnia, the pain. It take my mind off those myriad distractions of sensory hypersensitivity and pain responses that have dogged me throughout my entire life and seriously cut into my attentional reserve, as well as my energy.
After more than 5 years of struggling nightly with sleep problems… waking up at 3:00 a.m. on a regular basis, being jolted out of sleep by a racing heart, being woken gradually in the wee hours by cramping, aching legs and back… by stretching before I go to sleep, consciously relaxing, and using earplugs to block out unwanted noise, I’m able to sleep not only through the night, but even past my alarm, which is amazing. Once upon a time, once I was awake, I was awake. 4 a.m. or 8 a.m., I was UP. Now I can actually roll over and go back to sleep.
That in itself is a miracle.
And after decades of having this low-grade intensity driving me onward-onward-onward, not letting me have any downtime, not letting me take time to really think through what I was doing, and why, I am emerging from this agitation-created fog of pseudo-effectiveness, into the light of my actual life. For the first time that I can remember ever, I’m able to look at my life in terms of my own wishes and desires, and envision the kind of life I would have if I weren’t at all anxious and agitated and filled with nervous energy.
It truly is amazing.
And what’s even more amazing is that it’s happening at a time in my life, when so many of my peers are starting to head downhill, starting to slow down, starting to ratchet back their activities, in expectation of the eventual disintegration of age. This change, this transformation, is happening to me at a time when the window for that kind of change is “supposed” to be closing. And the amazing part of it is, I feel like I’m only just beginning.
Indeed, I am.
How? Why? I think it’s due, in no small part, to the fact that I trust my body. I trust my nervous system and I trust my plastic brain. I trust my body to make the changes I need it to make, and I believe that it’s possible for it to change. And I’m learning about it more and more, so I can give it what it needs to sustain the changes — good sleep, good food, good exercise. All good.
Well, another good thing is that my wrists are telling me to take a break. I need to just publish this and get on with my day. It’s Sunday, and it seems like all the world is wet. It feels like nothing is going to dry out till August — if it even does it by then. But it’s good. It’s growing.