Anxiety presents itself in different ways depending on the person. For me, it can manifest both mentally and physically.
There is an evil connection between my mind and my body. Ok, it’s probably not actually “evil”, but it sure feels like it sometimes. Here’s how it works: I have something going on that’s causing me stress. I use my tools which are to keep a good work pace up, exercise, some meditation, get in the ocean and make art.
Apparently, this isn’t what I should be doing. What should I be doing? I have no freakin’ idea, but my mind will let me know that my attempts to tamper the stress are futile. How does it communicate to me? By sending pain signals all over my body.
Chronic, undiagnosed knee pain started when I was about 13.
As I got older, I managed to get that to calm down, only to have my back, hips and shoulders flare up. If it got bad enough, even my wrists would hurt. In my 30s I learned some mental exercises to get the pain signals sent to my joints to stop…and they did, for the most part…and then the migraines started.
There was never any diagnosis or reason for the pain. No injury, autoimmune, or other illness. It was pretty frustrating until I learned about the mind body connection. Our minds are powerful things that always look for the path of least resistance. Once those pain pathways are established, it’s challenging to get them to change.
I know this all sounds a little bit “woo woo”, but I genuinely believe this and I believe it because I no longer have the joint problems unless I’m under a huge load of stress. I also know it because I once had a lump in my throat for an entire year.
One morning, a little less than 3 years ago, I woke up with a mass in my throat. I could feel it all the time. It was ever present. When I talked, swallowed, yawned, laid down to sleep, it was always there. I could actually press on my throat and feel a little "pop" happen. I went to see my doctor.
My primary care physician knows about my struggle with anxiety and depression. I have been very open with her about how I choose to deal with it, and my desire to not take pharmaceuticals. I stopped going to see doctors a long time ago whenever I felt pain (although we address it each year at my annual checkup), but this time was different. I had an actual lump in my throat, so I went to see her.
What she told me blew my mind. There was absolutely nothing there. No lump. No mass. No obstruction what so ever. She told me that feeling as though there is a lump in your throat is one of the most common anxiety symptoms that people get. It’s not my body. It’s my mind.
A good friend of mine, who does lean towards the “woo woo” side of healing, told me that this feeling is in direct correlation with not speaking my truth. I tried to roll my eyes at this, but I also knew that having quit drinking a few years prior, I was just now learning how to communicate my wants and needs, so it oddly made sense.
I was giving up a good paying job with people who had treated me like family for nearly a decade, to jump off a cliff into my own business. I spent my final 30 days there thinking I was getting a tumor.
What else had happened just before the “lump” showed up? I gave notice at my day job in order to become a full-time, professional artist. I had never not had a regular job. This was an unknown that I was barreling into head first. I was terrified of failing and letting down myself and my loved ones. I was giving up a good paying job with people who had treated me like family for nearly a decade, to jump off a cliff into my own business. I spent my final 30 days there thinking I was getting a tumor.
I was fucking scared. Fear, it seems, is a straight path to discomfort for me. This also made a lot of sense to me as I had recently come to the realization that I had spent the majority of my life terrified of just about everything. So, my mind sent a signal saying, “Hey! She’s not dealing with her fear in a healthy way and I don’t know what to do with all of this anxious energy, so I’m going to put it in her throat.”
After my visit to the doc, I increased my exercise regime, I got into the ocean more often, and I brought a regular meditation practice into my life. I was going through one of my biggest transitions to date. If I failed, the only person to blame was myself. By the end of my first year in business, the “lump” still in my throat, I actually thought about throwing in the towel.
I questioned if I was strong enough for the stress of being an entrepreneur. I doubted my abilities as an artist. I was completely overwhelmed in having to learn about marketing in this age of social media and how to stand out in a world that has infinite content to choose from. I had wanted to embrace myself fully, knowing that art was at the root of who I am. For the first time, I was actually being myself. So, why was I so scared? Why all the self-doubt?
There is a cycle that starts for me that is extremely hard to stop once it’s in motion. I get scared. I don’t talk about it. Fear manifests itself in pain and/or discomfort. I get freaked out about that. I still don’t talk about it. The pain and discomfort gets worse and now I’m completely beside myself thinking I could very well be dying. The pain and discomfort goes into overdrive. And on and on I go until I'm a puddle on the floor.
I decided that there was no way I could handle another year like that. I had to make a decision. I was in front of my bathroom mirror and I looked at myself in the eyes and said, “This is bull shit. Either be an artist and run your business bravely and with confidence, or just quit already and go beg for your job back.” Then I lost it. The idea of quitting because I was scared was awful. Was I really going to give up like that?
No. I was not. I wanted this. Bad. I looked back up at myself with resolve. Eyes hardened, banishing the victim that had been standing there mere seconds before. I decided that there was no room and no purpose for the fear. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? I make no money, have to rent out my house, and go adventure in my van. That didn’t sound all that bad, actually. While I did have to remind myself of this regularly, the “lump” was gone within the month. No kidding.
Anxiety is a bitch. Untreated anxiety, makes me physically hurt. I don’t have the lump anymore but sometimes, when I’m particularly stressed, I feel it a little. My joint pain is not the issue it used to be. When I feel it creeping in, usually all I have to do is ask, “What’s actually bothering you, Marigny?” and it goes away. Seriously.
Sometimes I think we simply need to check in with ourselves more often. My mom and I talk most days and I ask her every time how she’s doing. How often do we ask ourselves that? In a world where we are constantly looking for outward approval, maybe it would do good to check inward with ourselves every now and then.
Moving forward, I’m going to attempt to build a new pathway in my brain. Every time I ask someone how they’re doing, I will also ask myself because I think we could all use a little more STLC: Self-Tender-Loving-Care.
The painting at top is from my Lovely Mess series and is titled, Incoming Tide, 8x10, Acrylic and Paper on Canvas. $360 includes gold floater frame.
I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes. To hear from me more regularly, join me on this crazy, beautiful Artventure